As part of the Grassfed Exchange conference in Santa Rosa, California, we had the fortunate opportunity to learn more about the business of dairies that graze cattle in pasture and sell organic milk while touring two family-owned dairies, McClelland Dairy and Beretta Dairy.
In order for the milk from a dairy to be classified as organic, cows must be put out to pasture to graze throughout the entire growing season. The grazing season has to be at least 120 days out of a year. The cow must receive at least 30 percent of its dry matter intake from grazing during the grazing season.
There are many other requirements to classify as organic dairy, but the pasture grazing is on of the main element’s of organic dairies that directly improves soil health. In order to use dairy cows as a means to improve soil health and regenerate land, the environmental solutions must be economic. Though organic milk demands a higher premium from the consumer, the upfront costs of pasture grazing is often higher than a more conventional method. Successful organic dairies have found ways to make grass compete with cost of grain or hay.
McClelland Dairy, an organic family farm and dairy in Sonoma County, milks 1,100 cows and manages 3,300 acres. The McClelland’s sell their milk through Organic Valley. Their cattle graze on non-irrigated, warm-season pastures that are fertilized, in part, by compost made on farm as part of their manure management system. As George McClelland said, “We feed the worms and let the worms do the farming.”
The cows are split into three to five groups based on lactation. Using a mob grazing technique the cows are rotated through 95 pastures. This practice has resulted in healthier soils and a longer grazing season. The various regenerative practices at the farm are financially viable as well as environmentally sustainable. As one of the presenters at McClelland said, “Your good ideas will last as long as your cash flow lasts.”
Beretta Dairy is a family-run organic dairy in Santa Rosa, California. They graze their cattle on irrigated pasture and grow their own feed. The irrigation water is made of a mixture of city effluent-water and recycled water utilized to avoid groundwater pumping. The family sells their milk through Clover Sonoma. They are dedicated to improving soil health on their land.
Our time touring organic dairies in California encouraged our interest in utilizing a variety of methods including diary to improve soil health and build community. Stay tuned for more on dairies in the future.