The similarities of grassfed beef and dairy

By Allen Williams, Ph.D.

The grassfed beef sector has expanded rapidly over the past decade, ballooning from less than $40 million in domestic retail sales value in 2005 to $550 million in 2015. Annual sales growth of grassfed beef averaged 25-30% over the period.

Interest in “100% grassfed” dairy is also taking off, with the sector poised to experience the same exponential growth as grassfed beef. This brings up a few questions.

What can people who want to develop a vibrant grassfed dairy sector learn from the grassfed beef sector? What are the similarities? What are the contrasts? Continue reading “The similarities of grassfed beef and dairy”

The seven pillars of 100% grassfed dairy

Cows graze on the Van Amburgh farm

By Paul and Phyllis Van Amburgh

Sharon Springs, New York — We like to say we don’t suffer from an agricultural education. Paul was a builder and Phyllis an occupational therapist prior to our farming lives. We mean no disrespect to agricultural degree programs or the folks who complete them, but we like to make it clear that we came into farming without preconceived notions of what will and won’t work from an educational or experiential standpoint.

Most of what we’ve learned about 100% grassfed dairy production came from our willingness to try things that seemed long-shots at best. We were, and remain, eager to listen to all viewpoints, be they conventional, organic, confinement, grassfed or other. The ability to think outside the box has helped as we worked toward a functioning production model at our Dharma Lea farm. Continue reading “The seven pillars of 100% grassfed dairy”

Premiums welcomed, but not required

Heidels with cows

David just thinks A2 and no-grain are the most ‘ethical’ ways to make milk

Random Lake, Wisconsin – The future of alternative dairy might well be on display on a small organic farm operated by a maverick 70-year old with a graduate degree in crop chemicals.

David Heidel feeds no grain to his dairy animals and breeds his herd for A2 milk and receives not a cent in milk check premiums for these efforts. And David isn’t optimistic he’ll see such money in his remaining farming lifetime, what with his cooperative (CROPP/Organic Valley) unlikely to extend its Grassmilk no-grain procurement to this part of Wisconsin, and commercial A2 milk markets yet to be launched in the U.S. Continue reading “Premiums welcomed, but not required”

A grass dairy rises from the ashes

Peter Gaul

Peter Gaul and family are making a go of it on the second try

Benton, Missouri — It was April 2008. The midwestern heavens were unleashing torrents in record volumes, and Peter Gaul’s newly constructed dairy barn in the Bootheel of southeastern Missouri had become an island in the flooded Mississippi River. Hundreds of acres of recently seeded pasture were underwater for 35 days. Easy access to water may have been a primary reason Peter and his family moved to this locale from New Zealand to graze dairy cows, but this was a bit much.

Way too much. The flood, along with the ensuing dairy crash of ‘09, brought an abrupt end to an investor-owned venture that was dealing with a host of other problems. When the foreclosure came, the Gauls lost their entire investment and had to scramble to stay afloat. They made plans to concede defeat and head home, where Peter had developed a well-respected demonstration dairy at Lincoln University. Just another Kiwi who learned the hard lesson that the U.S. is an entirely different grazing world. Continue reading “A grass dairy rises from the ashes”

The grass cow: Don’t fall for promises of breeding shortcuts

By Greg Palen

The numbers game in dairy genetic selection began when the AI industry switched to frozen, storable semen in the 1960s, thus providing a true choice of sires. This was the beginning of the genetic horse race for the best sires, and the long battle to define the word “best.”

Fads came and went. Genetic ranking shifted from pounds of butterfat to pounds of milk (and later protein). Universities partnered with feed companies to figure out how much grain a dairy cow would eat without getting sick, then studied “type” to determine traits most responsive to making milk in volume at younger ages. Breed type classification became a tool for bull evaluation. Ultimately, we accepted the idea of ranking bulls on a composite of milk yield and type traits. PD for each trait gave way to Net Merit, TPI and other data formulas that we could treat as a “single trait selection” process. Continue reading “The grass cow: Don’t fall for promises of breeding shortcuts”

Breeding within for no-grain dairy success

Van Amburgh heifers and dry cows

Van Amburghs happy with what a single bull has done for them

By Tracy Frisch

Sharon Springs, New York — After starting with a bunch of sick and undistinguished cows, organic dairy farmers Paul and Phyllis Van Amburgh are bucking conventional wisdom in their breeding and heifer-rearing programs to create a more efficient, uniform and closely related herd that thrives in their no-grain system.

As students of Gearld Fry, a controversial cattle breeding consultant from Arkansas, Paul and Phyllis have worked hard to realize their notion of an ideal cow through linear measurement, prepotent bulls and rigorous selection. And at their Dharma Lea farm, replacement heifer calves are kept with their mothers for an entire 10-month lactation. Continue reading “Breeding within for no-grain dairy success”