UK Grass Fed Butter
It seems to be increasingly hard to figure out food marketing and labelling. We wanted to get some clarification as to which butters are 100% grass-fed so we emailed three companies that produce either grass-fed or organic butters: Kerrygold, Yeo Valley and Rachel’s Organic. Here are the responses we received:
The vast majority of an Irish cow’s diet is from rich, natural grass which grows abundantly in Ireland and we endeavour to work in harmony with nature in the care and feeding of our cows.
Ireland’s location on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean gives it a temperate climate, not too hot and not too cold and with regular rainfall which is the perfect weather for growing grass.
Approximately 2/3 of the land in Ireland is used for farming and agriculture and 80% of this land is used to grow grass. This grass gives the Irish countryside its green colour and is the basis for the description of Ireland as the Emerald Isle. This abundant supply of fresh grass is also what makes the Irish dairy industry and Irish dairy products unique.
Irish dairy cows graze fresh grass in pastures all day long for up to 312 days a year. In fact, Irish cows graze outdoors on grass for longer than almost every country in the world.
During the winter, when grasses stop growing, Irish cows are fed dried grass (known as silage). This grass is grown throughout the year, cut fresh and stored to be used when the winter comes. To maintain the good health and wellbeing of any dairy cow it is necessary to supplement their predominantly grass fed diet with a relatively small percentage of grain/supplements. This feed mix provides the cows with a balanced blend of nutrients providing them with protein, energy and fiber. Post calving, cows are also provided with supplementary feed post calving to help restore protein and nurture them through this period. Cows in Ireland calve (give birth) in the spring and are therefore outdoors, grazing on green grass when they are producing milk.
The majority of our cows’ supplementary feed are locally grown crops such as wheat and barley. As a small island, Ireland does not have enough land available to grow certain crops locally; therefore a number of crops are imported.
These imported crops comply fully with strict European and Irish legislative requirements on labelling and traceability.
Yeo Valley Organic Butter
Being an independent, family owned British business, we value our reputation and the loyalty of every one of our customers who buy our products. We have built our reputation on a combination of quality and word of mouth and would never knowingly do anything to jeopardise this. We don’t use any drugs to boost productivity (hormones), this is strictly forbidden by The Soil Association.
All of our delicious organic milk comes from a cooperative of South West dairy farmers (OMSCo), whose cows are all able to graze on the lush pastures of South West corner of England. All their animals are raised in accordance with organic standards. Each farm will work to the organic standards, but implement things slightly differently to our own farm but at no detriment to the animal. We are working with OMSCo and The Soil Association to provide further education to improve welfare on these farms also. The benefit of OMSCo is that all farmers are paid a fair price for their milk so then can develop sustainability within farming. A fair price means a farmer can plan and invest and it is our aim to see farmers succeed in the UK as too many farmers historically have given up farming because this has been un-economical for them.
A recent study has found that organic milk nutritional difference is linked to the fact that organic cows spend much of the year grazing in lush, rich meadows and are fed a diet high (min 60%) in forage such as fresh grass, clover, silage and hay.
Our cows are fed a mixed diet which is always broken down into Dry Matter on this basis the Soil Association Standards state:
100% Organic Feed
60% of the daily diet to consist of Grass (fresh, dried, silage)
60% of the total diet is to have come from our own holding
Organic cereal(wheat) is an important part of the diet and the rules above apply. In our particular situation, we aim to grow much more than 60% of our requirements on our farms, our British Friesian cows are fed on an organic grass-based diet which produces a slightly lower but a more natural yield of milk. Cows fed on concentrated feed may produce more milk, but it can be stressful for the cow to do so and put a strain on the animals’ health.
Organics standards strictly admonish zero grazing techniques; cows cannot be permanently housed, but must spend the majority of their lives outdoors. The cows must have appropriate bedding and adequate space when they are brought indoors during bad weather. The taste of the milk does sometimes vary for instance when they are first turned out to grass in the Spring, which you may or may not notice.
We do a soil analysis on our farms twice a year and also samples of grass go off for analysis during the grazing season. Our grazing fields with a diverse range of grasses, including meadow fescue and timothy and also leguminous red and white clovers.
The milk used in our Organic Butter is from farms that are certified by the Soil Association. The welfare of animals is of utmost importance to organic farmers, and organic regulations in this country must be followed to ensure their well-being All organic animals are further benefited by the farming methods than those that are solely free range. The stock density levels are lower than that of non-organic animals and they must have access to the outdoors (weather permitting) and appropriate diet which must consist mainly of home grown-grass or forage (a minimum of 60%). The resulting diet (which also restricts the amount of cereals that can be fed to the cows) means the cows produce less milk and as a consequence, is less stressful to the cow.
The takeaway: None of the butters are 100% bona fide grass-fed. Kerrygold wins in terms of the amount of time an animal is fed on a grass diet (312 days). Yeo Valley and Rachel’s Organic both feed their animals a 60% minimum grass-fed diet. We’ll be sticking to our Kerrygold for now, it’s good value and available in most supermarkets. It’s just nice to be aware of what’s in the food you’re eating.