Local Dairy Farming and Local Yogurt
I like to know where my food comes from. I try to buy locally whenever possible and I grow a few vegetables and berries in the summer. Recently I had the opportunity to visit a local organic dairy farm, Nature Glen Dairy Farm in Abbottsford, B.C., followed by a visit to a local yogurt factory, Olympic Dairy in Delta, B.C. This “Go Local” tour was truly a farm to table experience. From feeding and milking the cows to the collection of milk from the truck to the delivery and testing of milk at the dairy, followed by pasteurization, inoculation, packaging and finally tasting yogurt – farm to table.
The Nature Glen Farm started as an organic dairy farm in the late 90’s with 35 cows and is now 200 cows strong plus calves. Organic dairy cows at this farm have access to the pastures year round and will graze on grass for ¾ of the year. They are also fed organic hay to increase butter fat content and alfalfa from the farm. A mineral supplement is provided in addition to organic corn for energy, flax for protein as well as organic non-GMO soy, barley, wheat and peas from organic suppliers. Cows even have their own nutritionist. Ian Lennox, the farmer at Nature Glen, says that cows need the additional feed to provide enough energy for milk production. Each cow at Nature Glen produces an average of 34 L of milk each day in 2 feedings, one at 2am and one at 2pm. The farmers don’t need to go out to the pasture to get the cows, they know when it is milking time and they are lined up at the barn ready to go each day. They like being milked, they like routine and it feels good. Each cow will have one baby a year in order to continue producing milk. Cows are dried up (stopped being milked) 2 months before having their calf in order to rest them and prepare them for birth. The calves are kept with the mother cow for 2 days and then are separated and fed raw milk from a bottle until 3 months of age when they are able to eat enough solids. The boys are sold off and the girls are kept for the farm.
Organic dairy farms, just like conventional dairy farms in Canada do not use any growth hormones. Both are allowed to use antibiotics when the cows are sick but the cow’s milk will be discarded for a pre-set period of time (determined by the type of drug and the veterinarian) until there are no antibiotic residues. Nature Glen discards milk for 30 days after antibiotic use. They also take good care of their cows, giving them regular pedicures to reduce infections and the need for antibiotics in the first place. The main differences between organic milk and conventional is that the feed is organic, there may be a longer withdraw period after antibiotic use and the cows seem to have a better quality of life with more time spent grazing in pastures.
Each day the milk truck comes to collect the milk from the farm. It is tested for antibiotic residue and milk quality; fat and protein content. The truck then transports it directly to the dairy processor where the milk is tested by the factory once more for antibiotic residue. If there is a trace of antibiotics, the whole truck load is discarded and the farm is fined.
Olympic Dairy was founded in 1979 with just 3 employees and has grown to 78 employees. They produce and sell 2/3 of the organic yogurt sold in BC. Olympic produces a Balkan style rather than a stirred yogurt. This means that after the milk is homogenized and pasteurized it is inoculated with live bacterial cultures and then packaged into containers rather than incubating in the large vats and then packaging. The containers are then sent to the 110 degree Fahrenheit room for incubation where the yogurt is formed and becomes solid. No gelatin, gluten or genetically modified ingredients are used in this process. It is then transferred to the blast chiller and then stored in the cooler overnight and shipped to your local grocery store the next day. This process takes 24 hours. They truly are our “local” dairy. What sets Olympic dairy apart from other dairies is that they use 100% natural ingredients, no man-made preservatives, gelatin, chemicals or fillers. The Natural Olympic line of yogurt has recently reduced their sugar content by 35%% and is now the lowest sugar yogurt on the market that doesn’t use artificial sweeteners. Yogurt has a 49 day shelf life. However, once you open it, it should be consumed in 3-4 days. Olympic yogurt contains a probiotic culture which contains 1 billion active cells per 175g serving. There is also a Greek yogurt that comes in 0% milk fat and because they add milk protein to make it thicker, there are 3g more protein in this Greek 0% yogurt vs. other yogurts that simply remove water. An innovative product on the market is their Chia yogurt which adds fibre and omega 3s. Another new product is their Kefir natural and strawberry flavours and in the fall look out for Krema Pumpkin Spice Balkan style yogurt.
Yogurt has many health benefits. It is a great source of calcium which is important for bone health. It also contains potassium and magnesium which along with calcium can help lower blood pressure. Yogurt is a great source of protein with all the essential amino acids and higher protein yogurts such as Greek yogurts offer the benefit of improved satiety. Research shows that people who consume 3-6 yogurt servings per day have healthier body weights and make other healthy choice lifestyle habits. Some yogurts contain probiotics which help improve gut health. Finally, research has also found a link between yogurt consumption and a reduced risk for Type II diabetes.
Is there that much difference between organic and conventional milk? No. Except maybe in taste due to seasonal changes in feed. It really comes down to the quality of life of the cows, and the reduced impact on the environment. Interestingly though, a grass fed cow will produce a milk with a fat profile that is higher in omega 3 fats and lower in trans fats than a grain fed cow. Research shows that cows that are solely grass fed may produce both milk and meat that are considered a source of omega 3 fats. Research is pointing to greater health benefits for humans from the omega 3 fats in milk and meat from grass fed cows. Perhaps this research will encourage more farmers to grass feed their cows?