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When did dairy farmers start feeding grain to cows?

Corn, grain, silage, and even manufacturing by-products are fed to cows for one reason only: the bottom line. It’s cheaper and easier to feed larger amounts of cows with grain-based feeding, rather than manage the animals on pasture. Some dairy farmers also believe that a grain-based diet increases milk production of the cows.

Prior to WWII, most US farms were small and diversified. Cattle were put out to pasture and supplemented with very little if any grain or corn, as their natural place in a diversified farm was to consume grass. When peacetime arrived, there were many products and technologies from the war effort “looking for a home.” The WWII munitions industry’s surplus of nitrogen—once used to create bombs—found its home in agriculture, setting off the first “green revolution”—that was not so green in the end. With cheap and available nitrogen (one of the three synthetic fertilizers part of the N-P-K triad we still see on lawn fertilizers today) farmers could grow grain and corn crops much more quickly, and the American farmer could now “feed the world”—as well as its cows. The focus and the race towards higher yield and ever increasing crop production began, and feeding cows this now inexpensive grain and corn did as well. A grain-based diet for dairy cows became the norm, and the prevailing opinion—for quite some time—has been that any dairy farmer who attempted to raise their dairy cows on grass only was crazy—it couldn’t be done, and that “you can’t make milk with just grass”.

Well, we may be a little nutty at Maple Hill, but this opinion couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re adding more 100% grass-fed New York State dairy farms every few months. Many of these farms were very recently neither 100% grass-fed or organic, but have converted to third-party certified organic and 100% grass-fed with transition assistance from Maple Hill. The more farms we convert means we can make more delicious whole milk dairy products, and continue to build a farming system that keeps long-term wellness of the cows, farmers, and land at the forefront.

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