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Got Local Organic Milk?, Organic Dairy Farming

Got Local Organic Milk?, Organic Dairy Farming

By Ken Roseboro, The Non-GMO Report

Part 1: Radiance Dairy: Organic Dairy Farming At It's Finest

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At first glance, Francis Thicke's 236-acre organic dairy farm in rural Iowa looks similar to neighboring farms. There are rolling green hills, a big farmhouse, and even a big red barn-like building. However, a closer look reveals a completely different system of agriculture, one that offers a promising model of organic production that serves and is supported by a local economy. Thicke's farm, called Radiance Dairy, produces certified organic milk.

Compared to large-scale conventional dairies, Radiance Dairy is tiny, with 65 cows that produce about 2,000 gallons of organic milk each week. Every drop is organic along with its yogurt, cheeses, and soft ice cream mix. Radiance Dairy reflects a growing national appetite for organic dairy farming products. During the 1990s, sales of organic dairy products increased 500 percent

Maine leads the nation with more than 10 percent of the state's dairies, 50 of 420, now producing organic milk. The nation's two largest organic dairy producers are Organic Valley, based in La Farge, Wisconsin, and Horizon Organic Dairy, based in Boulder, Colorado. Both sell organic milk nationally, unlike Radiance, which refuses to sell even regionally. More about that later.


Different Philosophies And Methods Of Organic Dairy Farming

About the only thing Radiance shares in common with conventional dairies is that both raise cows and produce milk. Beyond that the two approaches diverge in philosophy and method. In the conventional-industrial system, the emphasis is on production. Cows are raised as milking machines, given hormones to boost milk production, and confined in high-tech, large-scale dairy operations.

In contrast, smaller organic dairy operations, such as Radiance, aim to raise healthy crops and animals that will naturally produce more nutritious foods. Cows are fed organic grasses and grains, given ample space to graze outdoors, and treated more humanely.

The differences between the two systems begin with the cows. While most conventional dairies raise the familiar black and white Holsteins, Thicke breeds the smaller, brown Jerseys. "Holsteins produce more milk, but Jersey cow milk contains higher butterfat, lactose, protein, and minerals," he says.

In conventional dairies, cows are confined in a feed lot or barn and given limited access to outdoors. In contrast, organic dairy production requires that cows have freedom of movement and access to outdoor pasture for grazing.

Thicke grazes his cows in pastures called "paddocks" twice a day after milking. His land is divided into 60 paddocks and over time he rotates the cows through all the paddocks so they receive fresh nutritious grass every time in the field. Thicke says this "controlled grazing" system enhances cows' health by giving them exercise outdoors as opposed to being confined. The grazing system is also more energy efficient than confinement.

In conventional dairy operations, forage is harvested, chopped, put in storage bins, and brought to the confined cows. The manure is then collected and hauled out to pasture. Radiance does the opposite. "All we do is open the gate and let the cows go out to pasture where they eat and spread their manure, which enriches the soil," he says. "We save labor and energy with a well-designed pasture system."

Next:

Humane Treatment and Soil Health

Local Production, Local Consumption


'Genetically Altered Foods and Your Health', by Ken Roseboro

A thoughtful, complete, and clear explanation of Genetically Engineered foods, the dangers, and what we can do to fight back against their taking over our food supply. Ken is the editor of The Non-Gmo Report - Go there to buy his short, readable, and excellent book.


"We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes." - Fred Rogers

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