Healthy Cows Are Happy Cows

Sourcing Value 5: We support the humane treatment of the cows that provide us with milk to make our products.

Just like people, healthy cows are happy cows. In contrast, an animal that is stressed and uncomfortable is much more likely to get sick. But, cows don’t need a New Year’s resolution to live a healthier lifestyle. They just need a little help from their farmer to make sure they have access to the outdoors, clean space to move around and bed down for the night, and a diet that suits their biology. Sadly, these basic necessities are not a given on all farms. (But they are on the farms where we get our milk!)

We source all of our milk from Organic Valley’s CROPP Cooperative, the nation’s most successful organic farmer cooperative. CROPP farmers are organic dairy experts. The National Organic Standards offer a mandatory starting off point for the humane management of animals. The CROPP farm families, however, went above and beyond and created their own rigorous set of standards, called the Animal Care Program, to make sure that the health and wellbeing of their herds always comes first. When you buy Stonyfield, you are supporting CROPP in their stand for humane treatment.

So, what exactly do the National Organic Standards say about animal welfare?

o Employ preventative health care practices such as adequate feed, nutritional supplements, sanitary housing and freedom of movement.
o Provide medical treatment in cases of animal illness. If a cow requires antibiotics to be treated, antibiotics must be used. The cow then can’t be used for organic dairy production.
o Provide access to outdoors and calls for conditions that accommodate the natural behavior of the animal.
o Provide appropriate clean and dry bedding.

A few of these points are worth going into a little more detail.

Grass is good: In 2010, the USDA issued a final rule on access to pasture for organic livestock – clearing up some significant confusion on the matter since the original standards were passed in 2002. Today, organic cows must be on pasture at least 120 days of the year, and they must go outside every day that weather permits, even when the pasture’s not growing. Access to pasture is not only about exercise and fresh air but grass (and hay) are a very important part of a cow’s diet. It’s the food they were designed to eat! A diet that is too high in grains can make cows uncomfortable, gassy, and cause more serious digestive problems.

More isn’t always better: The organic standards also prohibit the use of any synthetic hormones, most notably rBGH – used in some conventional herds to boost milk production. Cows treated with rGBH have significantly increased risks of clinical mastitis and lameness. Who wants that?

Going the extra distance: CROPP farmers also follow their own Animal Care Program that takes the national standards to the next level. All farms are inspected for compliance with these standards and given recommendations for continually improving animal welfare. You can learn more about these standards here. It’s not all about rules and regulations, though. The Animal Care Program is about learning together as a professional community:

“We see education as a critical part of animal care. We are supporting that component with our veterinary staff, an animal care specialist, mailing related articles, field days, barn meetings and further information throughout all our communication tools. It is exciting to see new systems developing and we want to share those successes so you can consider those for your farm.” CROPP Cooperative, Animal Health Committee

So as you can see, organic farmers put a lot of energy into doing what’s best for their cows, not what makes the job easiest for them. But, as usual a job well done pays off in the long run. In fact, one farmer we visited this summer told us that their vet bill in the previous year had been higher for their two dogs than it was for their entire herd of 40 cows!

When you meet a farmer who is as passionate about their cows as the farmers we work with, you could spend hours going over every detail that contributes to a healthy, productive herd. Or, you could ask Lyle Edwards what he considers the most important thing about his job:

“I love the cows. Yeah, that’s why I farm.”

To us, it’s just that simple.