In December 2019, the Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) released the Canadian Grass-Fed Milk (GFM) Protocols. These regulations have been compiled by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario over the past year or more with input from Ontario producers currently shipping grass-fed milk.
DFC has made some changes. One benefits farmers unable to keep cows in condition on hay alone, but the others are all detrimental to the job of farming: More record keeping and added costs.
Naturally, there will be mandatory on-farm and documented inspections by a third-party certification board yet to be announced (that is normal now). Also, there could be a second, unannounced “surprise” visit during any calendar year. There is no stipulation as to what could trigger that second visit: Poor biomarkers, pasture management, or could it be that the certification board needs more income? Either way, it is another person traipsing through the barns and fields, spreading bacteria. Non-compliance will require Corrective Action Procedures to be written up.
The milk biomarkers will be tested every two months, which is half the number of times they were being tested in Ontario. The biomarkers tell immediately if the cows are being fed a correct diet as the addition of too much corn silage or other additives affects the ratios.
The DFC will oversee compliance and manage the relationships with the certifying bodies, as well as regulate the use of the grass-fed milk identification mark on products.
The provincial boards have responsibility for administration, transportation, sampling and testing milk, as well as logistics and pricing. The premium paid to farmers for grass-fed milk is currently set at $8 per hectolitre in Eastern Ontario. However there must be more to the premium formula, as it is never as simple as multiplying the hectolitres shipped by $8.
This initial announcement says that these standards are to be reviewed periodically as required. Being a one-year pilot project under these protocols, the DFC will assess and collect data, with the first recommendations to be made in September 2020.
A big change is that corn silage is now allowed. Corn silage and grains can now make up a maximum of 25 % of the milking herd’s ration. The list of banned supplements includes corn distillers’ grains, any type of plant oil/fat, animal oil/fat, full-fat oil seeds — except for canola seeds and solvent-extracted meal of seeds — linseed/flaxseed above 1 kg per day and fish meal, urea, or any other non-protein nitrogen supplement.
Cattle must have access to pasture for a minimum of six hours per day for 120 days, weather permitting. There must be a minimum of .33 acres of pasture per cow.
There must be a written pasture management program to encourage regrowth of plants and reduce ground deterioration.
Least-favored among producers is the call for even more record keeping. These records and supporting receipts must be kept for five years. As farm receipts must be retained for seven years for taxation purposes, this item is moot.
Records regarding feeding (what is fed and how much) and pasturing (time on and off) must be kept on a daily basis, which is strange. As those familiar with dairy management are well aware, cattle thrive on feed consistency and regular schedules. So, why should it be assumed that grass-fed milk herds are managed any differently, depending on the day?
The costs of the annual mandatory and the probable surprise certification board inspections and biomarker milk testing will now be paid by the producer, not the provincial board. This will reduce the current payment of $8/hectolitre, so no doubt there will be a movement by producers to have the premium increased to cover these new costs and the additional time spent away from farming to do the daily required paperwork.
Also, as milk components vary greatly from farm-to-farm and breed-to-breed, the process of paying based on volume shipped, and not components, should be another area to be examined this year. Obviously there is far more butter fat and protein in a hectolitre of our all-Jersey milk than in a Holstein or mixed herd.
Lastly, should grass-fed milk continue to be included under “conventional” or given its own category, as organic is? When it comes to grass-fed milk, restrictions, extra testing, inspections and paper work, grass-fed milk bears no resemblance to “conventional” milk production and is more like organic.
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.