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Grazing Is For Farmers, Too.

As told by Margaret Sandrof, Tafel Dairy Farm 


Maple Hill 100% grass-fed dairy is made by cows who only eat grass, all year round. In the winter, when there’s little to no grass growing on the snow-covered pasture, our 100% grass-fed cows eat hay (dried grass) and baleage, (fermented, high-moisture grass). This feed is usually cut and stored by the farmer, coming from the same land the cows graze in season. Sometimes it can also be purchased from other certified farms. Our farms do not ever supplement our cows and calves with grain, corn, soy, or other foods in the wintertime or during grazing season.


After a long, sometimes brutal northeast winter both animals and farmers are excited to get out to pasture as the signs of spring start to appear. Here, Margaret Sandrof of Tafel Dairy Farm gives us a first-hand account of how it feels to start the grazing season. 


The grazing season is the most anticipated time of the year for the grass-fed farmer. While cows get pasture time during the winter months– which is great for the soil as it prepares for spring’s growing season– as the weather warms, farmers and the cows are eagerly looking over the fences at the growing grass. It often feels like it grows the most slowly in the early spring, kind of like watching a pot, waiting for it to boil. During the grind of winter, the routine is centered around keeping hay feed in front of the cows to make sure they get their fill after roaming the frozen land, milking twice a day, every day, rain or shine, or blizzard. Worrying about every pound the cows are producing, because the winter milk is our highest-paid milk for the year. Cleaning endless snow out of the driveway to make sure the milk truck could get through to pick up milk. Tiredly taking off our wet, cold frozen clothes at the end of the long day, hanging them up in our warm houses, to put our feet up for a few hours before bedtime. Putting on our same (hopefully dry) jackets and boots in the morning to start all over again. 


Somehow, when the air begins to warm up just a little, the snow starts to melt, and we are dealing with just endless amounts of mud, farmers start to get all excited again. The grass starts to make its quiet way up, turning the brown fields into a blazing spectacle of green that makes the heart happy to see after a long winter of gray and brown and white. Fences are repaired. Tractors and haying equipment are gone over, readying them for the haying season. 


The last of the feed is quietly counted, hoping the number of bales or amounts of haylage in the silos will correlate correctly with the start of the grazing season. Feed change can be difficult for cows. It takes about ten days for a cow's stomach to adapt to new feed rations. Finally the day comes! The pasture has been walked, the fences repaired. The air has a warm loamy smell in the morning. Leaves on the trees have been quietly unfurling after their long sleep and seemingly all at once they have exploded, covering the hills with the warm mist of green. Farmers have walked the fields, checking grass heights, looking for the nice bend in the grass that indicates the grasses have matured enough to allow grazing to start. There is a fine line between grass that is not mature enough (it’s straight up and down, it doesn’t cover your boots, all the grasses should be average between your mid shin and almost your knees). The start of spring is always such a great hurry hurry hurry of growing before June 21st, the summer equinox. Before June 21, the longest day of the year, all the grasses are putting energy into growing up and up and up. After June 21st, which always comes way too quickly after the hurry of the spring, plants start putting energy into the root system, getting ready for the winter again. 


As the pastures explode with life once again, there’s nothing quite like seeing the herd enjoy the new grass of the season. After all the anticipation, the best part is seeing, hearing, and feeling the excitement of the cows on that first day they return to grazing. It’s worth the wait.


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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