What does grass fed milk really mean?
In the world of marketing buzz words grass fed milk is a hot topic of conversation, but what does it actually mean? Is grass fed milk sourced from exclusively grass fed cows? And is organic grass fed baby formula really the best option for your baby?
In actual fact, there is no regulation that states what a cow’s diet must (or must not) be made up of in order to label a product ‘grass fed’. This means that as a consumer, you are relying solely on the manufacturers word. Let’s have a look at a few common label terms used, and what they could potentially mean.
Grass fed 365 days a year
This label term states that the cows eat grass 365 days a year, but they could also be feeding on grain alongside grazing on pasture year-round. It is impossible to determine what percentage of the cow’s diet comes from grass and what percentage may come from other sources such as grain.
Organic grass fed
This type of labeling can be tricky, as the word “organic” is often used without the product actually being “certified organic”. The next step is to check if the label confirms the product is grain fed, 100% grass fed, or grass fed 365 days a year, which as you learned above, can become a grey area.
100% grass fed
This label term means that cows eat only grass, and their diet is not supplemented with grains. For milk to be 100% grass fed, cows need to have access to fresh pasture year-round, with appropriate feeds during winter months (e.g dried forages and haylage). 100% grass fed cows live on pasture, with no-confinement, and no growth hormones or antibiotics. As a result they tend to be healthier and their milk contains a higher nutritional content compared to grain fed cows.
However, since there is no regulation enforcing criteria to meet label claims of grass fed milk, companies may sell a product under the ‘grass fed’ label, even though their cows may eat a diet based on a combination of grain and grass.
Why might grass fed cows be given grain?
There are a few reasons for this:
No 1. Grain feeding helps to fatten the cow which is desirable for certain types of meat production.
No 2. Grain feeding may be necessary to meet the energy needs of the animal when pasture is limited, such as in drought conditions.
No 3. Grain feeding is often a cheaper option than 100% grass feeding.
Why does it matter is if cow’s are fed grain or grass?
Research has shown that milk from 100% grass fed cows contains a higher nutritional content, and a superior fatty acid ratio. A grass fed cow formula utilizes premium quality milk, which naturally contains higher levels of vitamins A and E as well as more omega-3’s. When it comes to choosing a baby formula, quality of the raw materials, for example the source of milk will impact on the quality of the end product, with 100% grass fed baby formula delivering optimal nutritional benefit.
Tips on choosing authentic grass fed products:
- Be guided by price: 100% grass feeding is more expensive than grain feeding, and it can mean less milk production from the lactating cows. For this reason, a product labelled as ‘grass fed’ that is significantly cheaper than similar products is likely to be inferior quality as the milk is more likely to be sourced from cow’s fed on both grain and grass.
- Choose a brand that you trust: A brand that has established itself as providing the highest quality products by sourcing the highest quality raw materials is more likely to be able to back up their label claim with milk sourced from genuine 100% grass fed cows.
- Choose 100% Australian Grass-Fed milk over other potentially misleading labels such as ‘Grass Fed 365’.
- Alothman M et al. Foods. 2019;8(8):350.
- Benbrook CM et al. Food Sci Nutr. 2018 Feb 28;6(3):681-700.
- Elgersma. Eur. J. Lipid Sci. Technol. 2015, 117, 1345–1369
- Couvreur et al. J. Dairy Sci. 2006, 89 (6), 1956-1969
- Simopoulos A.P. et al. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2008 Jun;233(6):674-88.