Q. Question for you guys regarding grass-fed. I plan on visiting all the local meat and dairy farms in our area and providing summaries about each one via e-mail to our local members. I visited my first one yesterday who told me over the phone and in person that the cows (for raw milk) were fully pastured and completely grass-fed….no grain. They are definitely fully pastured however they are also fed alfalfa and oat feed that she showed me. I asked whehter that is considered “grass” and she said yes. My concerns are: could feed like that be treated with chemicals if not labeled “organic” and is oat really considered grass, and therefore can they then tell people the milk comes from fully grass-fed cows?
A. I would consider oats a grain, but it is OK to give a little grain to dairy cows. We tell our chapter leaders, just report the facts. If they give grain, just say so. If they feed alfalfa but you don’t know for sure whether it is organic, just say so.
Q. I have some questions about the effects of grain-finishing beef cattle. I have been working as a butcher and general “meat guy” for some years now, so I understand much about farming practices (pasture-based versus conventional). In fact, I worked specifically with grass-finished beef in California for several years. But I’m in Texas now, and getting a grass-finished beef that is properly finished is not as easy. And I’ve also become more educated about what it actually takes to properly manage grass and regenerate the land with grazing. You can’t just put a cow in a pasture and expect it to be sustainable for the animal or the land. This is certainly better than conventional models, but there’s a lot of variables to take into account.
What I’m looking for are resources about how grain-finishing effects nutritional integrity. And I’m not talking about corn-fed, conventionally raised animals. I’m speaking mostly of pasture-fed animals who are raised with grass underneath their feet from day one until the end, but also supplemented with something like barley to ensure a consistent finish on the animal. There’s also other things to consider like adding flax to a supplemental ration to boost the omega-3 properties of the fat. This is what I’m curious to learn about. These “alternative” practices that aren’t purely grass-finished but also aren’t conventionally raised or fed corn/soy/antibiotics.
I saw a presentation that Sally Fallon gave at a conference one year and she emphasized the importance of having an animal that had proper amount of fat. She even promoted the idea that allowing animals to eat some grain at the end wasn’t such a bad thing to ensure proper fat covering, etc. Where can I find more information about that??
A. I have not seen anything that would make me think that a little grain at the end is a bad thing–quite the contrary, if it increases the fat content, it is good. The CLA will still be there, stored in the fat. As for flax, I wouldn’t worry about the omega-3s. They are always in beef in very small amounts, and you can’t really change that much with giving flax. I think the grass-fed folks are shooting themselves in the foot by opposing a short period of grain at the end–it makes the beef fattier and more tender.
Q. In the last few years, Joel Salatin, (whose influence got me started in farming) has come out strongly, saying the soy-free diet isn’t important for animals, at least if the soy is roasted. He describes trials indicating that eggs from clover-pastured chickens had higher phyto-estrogens than those fed soy. I’m close to switching to adding non-gmo soy into my feed, as it is much cheaper, and a good source of lysine, which I currently get from fish meal, flax and sunflower seed. What are your thoughts on this?
A. Joel has never shared his test results on soy-fed eggs. We are planning to do some testing on egg yolks of hens fed various types of feed in order to be able to provide a definite answer. I do know that eating chicken fed soy was associated with premature puberty in Puerto Rico. On our farm, we use field peas instead of soy, and our grain mix is barley, sorghum and field peas. It is a little more expensive but we feel it is worth it.
Q. My family has a pair of goats in order to get raw milk and kefir. However, my grandpa got sick with tick-borne encephalitis (not from drinking milk) and as a result my parents are concerned about drinking raw milk due to possible transfer of the illnesses through the milk.
We live in an area with high tick population but small number of them are infected. Do you have any advice how to avoid or minimize contamination of milk by tick-borne diseases?
A. I have never heard of tick-borne disease being transmitted through milk. But to keep ticks off the goats, have a few chickens around them.