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All About Grass

We’re always going on and on about the benefits of a 100% grass-fed diet on the dairy our cows produce. But we know that when we talk about 100% grass-fed dairy, it’s easy to envision the grass we see in our own backyards, on golf courses, or parks. You know, a homogenous green lawn, with blades of grass standing upright pointing toward the sun. Truly wild grass is very different!

In regeneratively managed pastures, the grass is just as diverse as the ecosystems they support. Maple Hill dairy cows munch on a variety of grasses throughout the year, and throughout regions, like clover, bunch grasses, legumes, and rye, to name a few. These grasses also have complementary growth habits and nutrients, which makes for more resilient and sustainable pastures.  

Just like the human diet needs variety and diversity to support our microbiome and overall health, so do cows. That’s why in a grass-fed dairy system, integrating clover, bunch grasses, legumes, and rye into the pasture is so beneficial.  This diversity ensures that cows receive a balanced diet throughout the year, promoting their health and productivity. Funny enough, cows will also prefer different grasses depending on their nutritional needs at the time. Just like humans, a pregnant cow has specific cravings, and will tend to graze on different grasses compared to a milking cow. 

Clover, the cornerstone

Clover, particularly white and red clover, is a cornerstone of grass-fed dairy pastures. This trifoliate plant is easily recognizable by its three-lobed leaves and small, ball-shaped flowers, which can be white, pink, or red. Clover thrives in temperate regions and is often found in meadows, pastures, and lawns where the soil is moist and well-drained. Clover is a pollinator favorite, bringing bees to our fields to benefit the ecosystem.

Legumes, the protein powerhouses

Legumes, such as alfalfa, soybeans, and peas, are renowned for their nutrient-rich seeds and their ability to improve soil fertility. Legumes have significant protein, vitamins, and minerals, making them an invaluable component of the diet for grass-fed dairy cows. Alfalfa, in particular, is prized for its high protein content and digestibility, significantly enhancing milk production and quality. The inclusion of legumes in the pasture mix ensures that cows receive a balanced diet, leading to healthier animals and superior dairy products.

Rye, the dessert

Rye, a cereal grass closely related to wheat and barley, is characterized by its slender, upright stems and narrow, blue-green leaves. A common cover crop, rye can grow in a variety of soil types and climates, making it a versatile option for grass-fed dairy farms.

Bunch grasses, the carbon sequestration masters

We know, the name “Bunch grasses” really doesn’t sound all that special. But this type of grass is critical to a 100% grass-fed diet. Bunch grasses include species like Little Bluestem, Idaho Fescue, and Big Bluestem, and they grow in dense clumps or tufts– which is where they get their name. They’re also critical for carbon sequestration– capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide and storing it in the soil– because they have a dense root system. It also means they’re very good at preventing soil erosion and enhancing water infiltration. 

These diverse grasses are key for rotational grazing, which allows dairy farmers to optimize the abundance of different kinds of grass at different parts of the pasture. By moving cows between different pasture sections, farmers can ensure that plants have time to recover and regrow, maintaining pasture productivity and health. This practice also minimizes overgrazing and soil compaction, leading to better long-term outcomes for both the cows and the land. Having new kinds of grass on different parts of the pasture keeps our cows interested and grazing, and in turn, helps move soil and minerals around all over the field.

Having diverse grasses on our pastures also improves soil health and biodiversity: A mix of clover, bunch grasses, legumes, and rye enhances soil health by improving nutrient cycling, soil structure, and organic matter content. Each type of grass behaves differently in the soil, and offers something different to the land just as it does to the cow. The more diverse the grasses are, the bigger the range of beneficial soil organisms they can support, contributing to a more vibrant and resilient ecosystem, because of each plant’s unique resistance to different conditions– like weather, season, etc. Also, increased biodiversity in pastures also helps in pest management by supporting natural predators and reducing the prevalence of any single pest species.

So there you have it– just a little love letter to the grasses that keep our cows happy and fed, and the force behind the Maple Hill 100% grass-fed difference. The grass is truly greener on this side.

At Maple Hill, we’ve been committed to regenerative practices since 2009 because we know the highest quality dairy begins with the health of soil, grass, and cows. We believe that 100% grass-fed organic dairy farming done right is the pinnacle of organic, nourishes families with the best nutrition, and leaves the earth better than we found it. We are proud to be selected as a USDA Climate Smart Partner — supporting the production of climate smart commodities throughout the United States. 

Our 100% Grass-fed Organic dairy products include: 100% grass-fed whole milk, 100% grass-fed 2% reduced fat milk, 100% grass-fed butter (salted and unsalted), 100% grass-fed kefir (plain, vanilla, and strawberry), 100% grass-fed greek yogurt (plain and vanilla bean), and 100% grass-fed cream-on-top yogurt (plain and vanilla).


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