When the email from Jersey Ontario arrived mid-November, we couldn’t believe our eyes. A processor, Rolling Meadows Dairy, was looking for grass-fed Jersey milk producers. The only odd part was that he was having a meeting of interested farmers in Woodstock while seeking milk in the Perth and Oxford areas . . . but there it was in black and white. Perth we know (southwest of Ottawa) and we assumed that Oxford was near Oxford Mills (just down the road from Kemptville), much like Summerstown and Summerstown Station are. One tends to associate things with what you are familiar with.
We have been producing grass-fed Jersey milk for as long as we have been dairying, over 35 years now. We are an oddity in the local milk industry. Not only do we milk those little brown cows but we also grow neither corn nor soybeans. Instead, we buy a ration from a feed mill in North Lancaster (near Lancaster). This feed is balanced to a grass/haylage based program, not a corn silage one that is used on most dairy farms. It saves us keeping specialized equipment, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, custom combining and storage . . . plus time. The only grains we grow are barley and/or oats as a heifer feed and for straw.
We have found that without the corn silage, our cattle are healthier than most, have fewer foot problems and show strong heats with conception rates far above average. Mind you, our son does all the AI work out of our own tank so cattle are bred when they are in a good heat, not when the technician gets here.
So, there we were, thinking all weekend that we were at last going to have our unique milk recognized plus receive a bonus on top. We had suspected earlier in the year that this was coming as the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) set grass-fed milk standards in May 2017. These are standards we have been following for decades. Now the specific requirements are on paper, including no corn silage, no soybeans, limited grain corn and soy meal, etc, etc (see DFO Interim Grass-Fed Milk Standards).
Grass-fed milk appears to be replacing the old Omega-3 milk production which proved to be not only expensive to produce but didn’t sit well with many cows. Grass-based milk is identified by its higher level of conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) and a higher ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids, both of which are beneficial to the consumer. By periodically testing milk samples, it can be easily determined if the protocols for grass-fed milk are being followed or not.
The Jersey breed is particularly good at converting grass and/or hay/haylage to milk. Our breeding over the decades has enhanced this ability in our own cows. The few times we brought in outside cattle, they never performed well on our rations and so rarely stayed. Add to this the requirement that cattle be on pasture for as long as the weather permits and the number of herds that can accommodate the rules dwindles. Most modern barns are set to house cattle 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Monday morning, after a weekend on a high, and just as we had anticipated (it was too good to be true) the bubble burst. Perth and Oxford are not towns about 1 ½ hours to the west but counties in the Woodstock area. And the transport company which picks up the grass-fed milk doesn’t come this far by any means.
So now knowing there is at least one company selling grass-fed milk in Ontario, we are on a search for one in Eastern Ontario setting up shop to supply the Ottawa/ Kingston/Cornwall area. Whomever you are, we, our cows and our grass-fed milk are here and waiting.
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.