What is grass-fed milk, really?

By: The Alter Eco Team

There are so many labels on food these days that the descriptors can be a touch overwhelming. Phrases like “all-natural”, “eco-friendly”, and even “sustainable” get used so often, and in so many different ways, that they can leave you more confused than when you started. The term “grass-fed” is also at risk of becoming clouded in mystery, so we’re here to help guide you through what grass-fed milk means for you, the cows that produce it, and the planet as a whole.    


Conventional vs. Grass-Fed


In general, dairy cows that are raised using conventional farming techniques spend most of their life in dirt yards with limited (if any) access to pasture. 

These cows are also fed almost half of their diet in grains. They are often crowded in tight quarters in conditions that can spread disease, so they’re fed antibiotics and other medicines to keep them healthy.


So if that’s how most conventionally raised milk is produced, what is grass-fed milk? Well, put simply, grass-fed milk is produced by cows that eat grass. Although it sounds beyond obvious, these cows spend the majority of their time outside on fresh, growing pasture. Winter always comes eventually, so when there isn’t outside pasture available, grass-fed cows are typically fed hay and other dried leafy forage materials.


The Grass-Fed Difference


An important point to make here is that the quality of a cow’s milk is directly impacted by what they eat daily and the quality of their environment. Can you imagine the difference in the quality of life and health between a cow that spends its days outside eating fresh pasture versus a cow that is kept in a concentrated pen eating mostly grain? This is the grass-fed difference.


Grass-fed milk is good for the cows that produce it, but it’s good for the humans that consume it too. Studies have shown that grass-fed milk is higher in Omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acids (CLAs). Both are essential fatty acids that help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and other diet-related issues like diabetes.


What Grass-Fed Means for the Planet


Good for cows, good for humans, and good for the planet? This topic is a little bit trickier, but we’ll try and make it simple. If you’re buying USDA certified organic dairy products, you’re buying from cows that were raised on chemical-free fields. No pesticides, no herbicides, none of the often-problematic chemicals that cause pollution issues. Farmers that raise grass-fed cows also have a stronger incentive to keep their pasture healthy and productive, which in turn means less soil erosion and more carbon stored as healthy grassland.  


Unfortunately, there is no singular definition of “grass-fed” and it is not a term that is regulated in the dairy industry. However, all certified USDA Organic dairy products are grass-fed to some extent. To obtain organic certification, the USDA requires that dairy cows spend 120 days on pasture and get at least 30% of their diet from pasture grasses. Even with this minimum standard in place, each company is different when it comes to grass-fed, so it’s important to get to know the company and its specific practices.  


Alter Eco’s Commitment


At Alter Eco, our grass-fed milk chocolates are made with milk produced from cows in the alpine valleys of central Switzerland. Although the milk is USDA and Swiss certified Organic, our cows graze outside on pasture for a minimum of 234 days a season, almost twice as long as what is required for the certification. 90% of our cows’ diet consists of grass, supplemented by a 10% maximum of cereal grains like rapeseed, barley, and wheat. We’re proud that the cows our milk comes from live lives full of green grass, sunshine, and open air, just like they were meant to.  


How can you support all the benefits of grass-fed? Look for dairy products that are specifically labeled “grass-fed” and do some independent research on the company’s growing practices. Our Organic Silk Velvet Truffles are a great place to start - they're made with grass-fed milk! If you have local grass-fed dairy farmers in your area, contact them to learn more about their practices and how they raise their cows. Most farmers are happy to discuss their growing practices with customers.  


We’ve gone to great lengths to make grass-fed practices a core part of our products because they support you, the cows that produce them, and the planet.  


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