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Going Against the Grain

Maple Hill’s commitment to a 100% grass-fed diet may seem radical these days in the grocery story, but truly, we’re just feeding our cows what they were meant to eat.

Cows originally ate only grass. As the dairy industry grew, so did herds to support it. And with that growth, grain was introduced to improve performance and accelerate milk production and herd maintenance. It was a classic case where the economics made sense, at the expense of the quality of the product.  Fillers like corn and grain, and even manufacturing by-products are fed to cows for one reason only: the bottom line. It’s cheaper and easier to feed larger amounts of cows with grain-based feeding, rather than manage the animals on pasture. Some dairy farmers also believe that a grain-based diet increases milk production of the cows.

Prior to WWII, most US farms were small and diversified. Cattle were put out to pasture and supplemented with very little if any grain or corn, as their natural place in a diversified farm was to consume grass. When peacetime arrived, there were many products and technologies from the war effort “looking for a home.” The WWII munitions industry’s surplus of nitrogen—once used to create bombs—found its home in agriculture, setting off the first “green revolution”—that was not so green in the end. With cheap and available nitrogen (one of the three synthetic fertilizers part of the N-P-K triad we still see on lawn fertilizers today) farmers could grow grain and corn crops much more quickly, and the American farmer could now “feed the world”—as well as its cows. The focus and the race towards higher yield and ever increasing crop production began, and feeding cows this now inexpensive grain and corn did as well. A grain-based diet for dairy cows became the norm, and the prevailing opinion—for quite some time—has been that any dairy farmer who attempted to raise their dairy cows on grass only was crazy—it couldn’t be done, and that “you can’t make milk with just grass”.

“When cattle are fed grain, productivity is increased, but fiber-deficient rations can disrupt physiological mechanisms,” said James B. Russell of the Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture in Ithaca, New York. More research shows that metabolism is enhanced in grass-fed diets, which work as an anti-inflammatory, preventing disease and discomfort: “The anti-inflammatory n3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are enriched in grass finished beef (*cattle in general), while higher levels of n6 PUFAs in grain finished animals may promote inflammation and oxidative stress. […] Most importantly, blood cortisol levels strongly indicate that grass-fed animals may experience less stress than the grain-fed individuals.”

The research is clear– there is growing, consistent evidence that a 100% grass-fed diet is the better  way to make dairy. You can taste for yourself that it produces a creamier, more delicious, nutritious milk that transforms yogurt, butter, kefir, and beyond. 

We’re adding more 100% grass-fed New York State dairy farms every few months. Many of these farms were very recently neither 100% grass-fed nor organic, but have converted to third-party certified organic and 100% grass-fed with transition assistance from Maple Hill. The more farms we convert means we can make more delicious whole milk dairy products, and continue to build a farming system that keeps long-term wellness of the cows, farmers, and land at the forefront.

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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