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“How Soil and Pasture Relates to Animal Health—And Your Health” was written by Organic Vally / CROPP Staff Ruminant Nutritionist Silvia Abel-Caines, PhD, DVM.

In 1907, the promotional phrase “Carnation Condensed Milk, the milk from contented cows” was introduced. This slogan referred to the higher quality milk produced by happy cows grazing lush, Pacific Northwest pastures. Fortunately, we now have plenty of scientific evidence to support that cow health and well-being is related directly to what they eat. But I would like to take this a little further to include this: Not only is what cows eat important, but also how their food is grown.

Farmer-owners of Organic Valley / CROPP Cooperative are committed to feeding their animals high-quality forages consisting of green (fresh) or dry (conserved) plant feeds. Organic Valley farmers ensure that their cows graze pastures when grasses are at peak quality.

Cultivating pastures capable of growing the high-quality forages cows need is a skill refined over a farmer’s lifetime of working the land. Knowing the geological characteristics and soil quality of each acre of the farm is very important. With this knowledge, the farmer can determine what kind of organic, sustainable soil supplements are needed to grow pastures that will give cows the best nutrition.

Grasses grown in soil rich with balanced minerals are more efficient at using solar energy to convert water and carbon dioxide into nutrients. Protein, fat and carbohydrates (sugars, starches and fiber) are the building blocks that cows use to build muscle and make milk. This is one of the most amazing examples of the transfer of molecules from the ground up!

So we know that grazing dairy cows thrive on high-quality pasture, but what does high-quality pasture consist of? My definition of a high quality pasture is one that is very dense with tasty, high-energy plants. And what tastes good to cows? Hint: It tastes good to you, too. Sugar! Glucose creates energy needed by plants and animals to be at their peak, and it is present in plants at higher levels when key minerals are present in the soil. Soil with these key minerals also means that more nutrients are packed into the leaves and stems of those plants.

Cows store surplus energy they get from food as fat (just as humans do), which is also where fat-soluble vitamins from their food are stored. When a cow’s diet consists predominately of pasture grasses, she consumes higher levels of essential fatty acids, like omega-3, that come from the plants. As the cow uses energy to make her milk, those elevated levels of essential fatty acids are part of it. This means, not only do cows use the plant nutrition to their own advantage, but the calves and humans who consume that milk benefit, too.

Soil, pasture, animal and human health are all inter-related when it comes to producing healthy foods for you and your family. It’s all connected!