Saturday, May 25, 2024

Better Milk: How What Cows Eat Affects Your Dairy

Cows are amazing animals. They can take low-quality foods like grass and hay and turn it into nutritious milk that humans can drink. But not all milk is the same. The quality of milk that cows produce depends a lot on what the cows eat. By changing a cow’s diet, farmers can produce better-tasting milk with more healthy fats and proteins. 

How Cheap Feed Means Lower Quality Milk

Most dairy cows eat a simple diet of grass, hay, silage, and grains like corn. While cheap, these foods provide fewer nutrients than a natural cow diet. So the milk they produce lacks the healthy fats, vitamins, and proteins that milk can deliver when cows eat better feed.

Just like if humans eat a lot of junk food, cows fed low-quality diets make lower quality milk. And the difference shows up in the nutrition labels. Researchers have found that milk from cows on standard commercial diets can have 50% less omega-3s and other healthy fats compared to milk from cows on healthier, more natural diets.

What Bypass Fats Do 

According to the experts at Energy Feeds International, one way that farmers improve milk is by adding more bypass fats to cow feed. Bypass fats are special supplemental fats that help cows make better use of their entire diet.

Normal fats get digested by cows’ four stomach compartments and don’t boost milk quality much. But bypass fats skip digestion and get absorbed directly in the cow’s small intestine. From there, they “bypass” the regular fat digestion process. 

These fats end up circulating in the cow’s bloodstream and getting used by their udder to produce higher-fat milk. Adding just a little more bypass fat to feed means the extra fat goes straight from the cow’s small intestine into her milk. Just a small increase ends up registering as more omega-3s and better nutrition when that milk hits grocery shelves.

More Natural Diets Make Better Milk 

Feeding more bypass fats helps boost milk nutrition a little. But an even better way is switching cows to more natural, healthy diets.

Before mass production, dairy cows ate mostly grass, hay, and silage. And they produce amazing milk on that diet. Their four stomachs are made to break down and digest grass and hay into perfect nutrition for milk production. Plus, cows on forage-only diets live longer, healthier lives with less disease, vet bills, and stress.

Many small organic dairies feed high-forage diets with no grains. And some ‘grass-fed’ farms raise cows only on pasture grasses. Those all-natural diets result in milk higher in healthy fats and antioxidants compared to even supplement boosted milk from cows in feedlots.

The Difference is in the Label

So whenever buying dairy products like milk, yogurt, butter, or cheese, read the label first. Know where your dairy comes from.

Labels that say “Grass-fed” or “Organic-Pasture Raised” mean cows ate mostly grass instead of feedlot grains. That all-natural diet leads to naturally higher quality milk. Those products often cost a little more but deliver extra nutrition and health perks worth paying for.

Of course, no fix is perfect. Many small dairies cannot afford to keep cows on grass year-round. So they supplement with silage, hay, and some grains, which lowers nutrition a bit. But that milk still rates much higher than standard commercial feedlot milk in studies, especially when bypass fats are added to the mix.

Conclusion

Everyone wants healthy milk from happy cows. Tiny diet tweaks like adding bypass fats help with this. Remember, healthier cows make healthier milk. So support farmers trying innovative new techniques and returning cows to more natural diets through better feeds and pasture access.

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