From rotational grazing to cow health to why farmers decided to go organic, our tour day was filled with insights on where our food comes from and how it is produced. We spent the day on two Organic Valley/CROPP organic dairy farms and one non-organic dairy farm, and there is much to share about what we learned. (So much, in fact, that I’ll have to post specific details over the coming week so I can get up early tomorrow and head to the milking barn!) Top Five Things Learned on Barnstorming Day Two:
1. The health in the soil determines the health above the soil.
Organic farming starts with the soil: Healthy soil = healthy plants = healthy animals = healthy you!
2. Cows are like athletes; milking is the equivalent of running a marathon, and farmer Guy Choiniere says his role is to act as their athletic trainer.
Cows have the amazing ability to convert the minerals they eat into the milk they provide. That takes a whole lot of energy. That’s why good health and good nutrition are key in keeping energy levels up. Organic farmers help manage health through illness prevention to keep cows strong.
3. The average life expectancy of a conventional dairy cow is four years. An organic cow may live 13-14 years. (The farmers today said their cows live at least 10 years on average.)
In fact, meet Dena – one of the Stonyfield “Have A Cow” herd. She’s 15 1/2 and no longer milking but still happily grazing at the Howmars Farm.
4. Cows take about 200 bites of grass and then get tired – that means their first mouthfuls of feed need to be good ones.
Pasture is the highest quality feed because it is direct. High protein levels in the grass mean less grain for feed and lower costs to farmers. And, healthier cows and humans.
5. All 50 states have organic acreage and Vermont has the highest percentage of agricultural land that is certified organic.
We ate all kinds of delicious organic Vermont food today – much of it coming from the farms all around us here in Swanton and Alburg. After learning first-hand about organic farming, there was something very special about getting to enjoy local organic ingredients. (This trip might just make us all move to Vermont – or at least closer to our farmers.)
Bonus – #6: Always close the gate behind you.
As farmer Jonathan Gates says, you never know when the cows might sneak in.
Tomorrow will bring more farms, more photos, and more organic adventures. Good night fans. Good night cows. Good night moon!