As the debate between conventional and organic milk consumers gets louder, we spoke with two local dairy farmers and gave each the same questions; here are their positions on their milk.
Allen Smith, a fifth-generation conventional dairyman, owns Great Bay Farm in Greenland. His 100-cow herd is primarily Holsteins. Organic dairyman Luke Mahoney rents Brookford Farm in Rollingsford and his herd, mostly Jersey, numbers about 25 head.
CP: What do you feed your herd?
AS: At Great Bay Farm our herd is fed a diet of home-grown forages including corn silage, grass silage and dry hay, supplemented with a custom mix of corn meal, pelleted grain and spent brewery grain from Budweiser’s Merrimack plant. A nutritionist regularly checks the feed to ensure a balanced diet.
LM: Brookford Farm cows consume primarily fresh grass when they graze on in green pastures, and eat grass-derived products like grass haylage or dry hay. We purchase organic corn.
CP: What grasses do they eat when they’re outside?
AS: Our herds do not graze for their forage. We find it a more efficient use of the land to grow all the crops we use for feed. Every day we turn out our cows to exercise in a paddock area but the heavy clay soil near the barns does not support sustained forage growth.
LM: When our cows are outside they eat a variety of native as well as cultivated grass and clover. They receive dry hay in the barn all summer to compliment their pasture diet.
CP: Which medicines do vets give your cows?
AS: We usually treat sick cows ourselves, using nutritional supplements administered orally and occasionally a subcutaneous (given in the fatty tissue) injection. Mastitis, an inflammation in the udder, is treated with an antibiotic injection into the udder. As there is a standard withdrawal time for any drug, we test the milk from all treated cows and do not resume milking until they are cleared of all drug residues.
LM: We use homeopathy, electrolytes, Chinese herbal remedies, garlic tincture and bovine colostrum whey to heal the rare health issue on the farm. There is a long list of medicines that cannot be used on organic cows, as well as antibiotics and hormones. Conventionally-trained vets are not trained to work with organic cows.
CP: How does conventional milk differ from organic milk?
AS: Conventional milk is produced on farms where man-made products are used to produce forages such as commercial fertilizers and herbicides for crop weed control, but there is absolutely no nutritional difference between conventionally- and organically-produced milk. State and Federal laws guarantee nutritional guidelines so that all milk is equally safe for the consumer.
LM: Our milk is sold in its raw form. Our milk is not pasteurized, not homogenized and not vitamin-fortified. Our milk comes from cows with their horns still intact. Our milk is full of beneficial bacteria, derived from the sun and grazing and it is relatively high in fat. Lactose intolerance can sometimes be made easier by drinking raw milk.
CP: How do you respond to those who say, “Conventional milk is less healthy than organic milk”?
AS: The limited number of dairy farmers still using artificial growth hormones are responding to the public’s outcry against its use. Milk processors are also demanding cessation of artificial growth hormones. Before milk is unloaded at any dairy plant, all milk shipments are tested for a number of quality aspects. A milk sample from every farm is taken before the milk is loaded onto the milk truck and milk that does not meet strict State and Federal quality standards is rejected and disposed of. It is simply a matter of opinion that organic is healthier, because milk is probably the most thoroughly tested item on any store shelf.
LM: I think the major difference is grazing versus feedlot. Grazing cows are healthier, they live longer and they produce a healthier product.
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Christopher Peake is a former CNN foreign correspondent, now living in Exeter and coaching “green” companies with their messages and message presentation. His website is communicategreen.com.
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