The Importance of Organic/Regenerative Dairying in Human Health

Interested in a rev-up kind of conversation? You’re growing the most important health product on the planet.

Article by Phyllis Tichinin

Butterfat fat from cows fed outdoors on rapidly growing diverse pastures has the highest levels of life-saving Vitamins A, D.  But wait, aren’t animal fats bad for us?!  Actually, they’re crucial for brain repair, heart and bone health and immune strength, among many other functions. That’s why they’re called Essential Fatty Acids. 

We’re getting less than a tenth of the amount we need for full health and robust kids.   Unfortunately, that’s showing up in our skyrocketing rates of asthma, allergies, and childhood cancer.  Savvy mothers around the world are going back to natural approaches, and especially butter, to combat childhood illnesses and infertility.

But what about “saturated animal fats cause heart disease”?  That’s a medical myth from the 50’s. Medical researchers analysing hundreds of heart disease and diet studies conclude there is NO link between eating cholesterol/animal fats and heart disease (see source 1). Since many of us are encouraged to take cholesterol lowering drugs, it appears a profitable and therefore durable myth. We did reduce our animal fat and red meat consumption over the last 50 years, but heart disease and cancer are only going up.  So, animal fat can’t be the main cause.  

Deficiencies in Vitamins A and D and excessive processed carbohydrates in our diet are the main contributors to our increasing ill health. Birth defects, ADD/HD, epilepsy, depression, and cancer all have links back to too many carbs and not enough cholesterol/essential fatty acids from quality animal fat.   We are, after all, Palaeolithic in 99.99% of our body function.  The size of our brain is due to all that Woolly Mammoth fat we ate. We continue to need it for full health.

We can grow the world’s best butter fat but we’re not focusing on that.  Our international markets like Norway crave our butter.  Indian cultures revere anhydrous butter (ghee) for cooking and use it to treat everything from earaches to skin infections. Forget Milk Solids. Our future is in Fat.

Vitamins A&D in quality butter are accompanied by Vitamin K2 and CLA.  All these valuable fat molecules are produced by cow rumen microbes.  Thank you cow microbes, because these four fatty acids are known to powerfully reduce your risk from all sorts of cancers. But once again, the pastures must be diverse, mineral balanced, microbe friendly and grazed taller to really get the butter benefits. The glitch is those same wonder microbes are NOT happy in the presence of chemicals, like urea and antibiotics – the inputs organic dairy farmers make do without.

What?  You figure it’s not feasible or profitable to be an organic dairy farmer?  Think again. A decade ago, Massey University documented that organic dairy systems have generally similar production but higher marginal profits than conventional.(see source 2). And that was before the organic premiums rose and conventional dairy input costs went through the roof.

So how DO those organic dairy farmers do it without antibiotics, without synthetic fertilisers, without CIDRS, etc.? They grow the health of their soils and pastures to improve the immune competence and metabolic integrity of their cows.

Farmers can achieve this by not beating up their soil microbe engine rooms.  Instead of getting knocked back by conventional inputs, their soil microbes just get on with deepening the soil and improving pasture quality by bartering minerals with plant roots. The plants transform the minerals into high quality cow feed and soil carbon. The more pasture species trading on the Soil Shares Exchange the better.  Five species is a cop out. Twenty+ species provide lively trading and high-quality butter fats.

And here’s a key point missing in the methane debate:  methane emissions depend on what the animal is eating.  High nitrate/low sugar grass produces more methanogens in the rumen, ammonia escaping into the blood, high MUN (milk urea on your docket), and more methane. Did you know that embryos can’t survive when your MUN reading is over 35? These problems are all linked, and they revolve around overuse of nitrogen.  Why not reduce methane burps by focusing on more natural inputs, soil microbe health, and grazing management?  That would increase the quality of our paddocks nationwide, reduce our methane emissions and boost the vitamin content of our butter.

Achieving this takes more than sunflowers. It takes backing off the chemical inputs, keen pasture observation, leaving a greater trampled residual, and varying rotation lengths especially in Spring. It’s generally called holistic grazing management. More than worth the extra focus needed since many farmers report their grass production doubles.

We have so many climate, soil, and farmer advantages here.  Why the hold-up in adopting more restorative and profitable dairy practices?  I get the mortgage bit and the learning curve challenges.  I assert there’s also a fair amount of ‘they’ll think I’ve gone hippy’ going on as well. Instead, why not contemplate the premier market opportunities for organic/regenerative and the personal satisfaction of helping restore our environment? Why do you think those overseas retirement funds wanted to get into NZ dairy land? We already have the pathway to better outcomes at low cost.  

Summing up, we have been beating up our soil microbes with many of our dairy inputs and they’ve spat the dummy.  Their ‘industrial action’ is crashing our soil and plant nutrition leading to under-nourished cows that get sick too often and burn out quickly. We keep upping the inputs to try to catch up which, with hyper-inflation, is a particularly bad idea. One of the most expensive ones is the main one causing the nitrate, methane, and most of the animal health problems. We used to farm without urea…with some changes to practice and inputs, we can get back to the genuine value and profit of green grass dairying.

A key thing holding animals and soils back is cow antibiotics putting the farm soil ecosystem out of whack, just like with our own guts after taking antibiotics.  Microbes are in charge of soil function, animal digestion and immune response, and they rather dislike antibiotics (see source 3).

Ever wonder how organic dairy farmers get along without them?  It’s because their soil microbe communities have recovered and possibly because many of them use True Health remedies.  What would it mean to your management and peace of mind if you didn’t have to worry about handling antibiotics on-farm?

I assert that if you farm without the chemicals, even if you don’t decide to certify as organic, you’re better off because you’re improving your capital asset, reducing your costs, and likely improving your health.

You’re growing the most important health product on the planet.  Make it the bloody best you can for your farm soils, your cows, our markets, your profit, and your own health.

Thanks for engaging on this.

Phyllis Tichinin   Soil scientist, retired farmer, Eco nutritionist

This article appeared in NZ Dairy Magazine Dec 2022 – Page 24/25

  1. Heart Disease & Cholesterol
  2. Massey Dairy Base Analysis Organic Dairy Farm Performance 2012
  3. Antibiotics and pastures

For information and farmer examples of these new/old grazing approaches see:  ODPG, Quorum Sense, Next Level Grazing, HB Future Farming Trust, HB Regen Ag Group and particularly the resource PDF linked at the end.

Photo Credit: Felicity Tai (Pexels)

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