One of the most wonderful scenes in Kalona, Iowa, is the sight of dairy cows grazing on beautiful green pastures. Kalona is home to many Amish organic dairy farms, so these picturesque views are a common site. On these farms, the cows eat a significant portion of their daily ration from pasture. Our producers know that cows do best when they can harvest their own feed from the pastures around them, so many of them exceed the 120 day minimum.
Though these views are picturesque, a grass-based dairy farm is more than just good looks. Studies have shown that milk that comes from cows on grass has proven to be more healthy due to the higher CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) content and a more balanced Omega 6:3 ratio. Other than the human health benefits, there is also a positive environmental benefit that can’t be overlooked. Pasture that is grazed with normal grass recovery times can mitigate the development and increase in organic matter. Organic matter that breaks down in a biological agricultural system (like what an organic dairy farm tends to be) leads to the formation of humus, a component of topsoil. Humus contributes to soil structural stability, water-holding capacity and nutrient availability. Humus has the potential to hold up to 20 times its weight in water. A 1% increase of humus in topsoil can result in a four-fold increase in water-holding capacity. Adequate topsoil and humus insulate these organic dairy farms against the extreme effects of drought, because moisture is stored in the soil so the roots can access it if needed.
Finally, topsoil and humus help manage excess water that runs into the soil. Instead of running off, these items help keep floods at bay. These pastures provide a slowing effect to a hard rain, helping keep the topsoil on the cropland in place instead of running off. Diverse pastures also provide habitat for beneficial insects that balance insect attacks on crops.
As you can see, pasture is a very helpful addition to any farm and an essential tool for farmers looking to diversify their operation. This milk is not only healthy, but it is wonderful for the environment.