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Why Pasture-Raised Is The New Organic

pasture raised dairy

Seems like many big meat and dairy companies are now selling an “organic” line.  But are all organic meats and dairy created equal?

Not necessarily.  In most cases, the organic meat and dairy produced on pasture-based farms is better for human health, for animals, and for the land. Here’s why.

There are two feeding methods that producers most commonly use to deliver beef and dairy products to their customers: Grass-Fed and Grain-Fed. In the grass-fed program, the cattle eat certified organic grass for their entire lives.  Strictly grass-fed cows tend to be leaner than grain-fed, and their meat/milk contains a higher percentage of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.  Grain finishing produces meat and milk that’s higher in overall fat and saturated fat.  But both methods are technically organic.

The following chart shows the differences between organic grass-fed and organic grain-fed meat and dairy products.

Cows graze on grass and other “forage” (naturally occurring plants found on pasture) for their entire lives Yes  No
Dairy & meat products are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and lower in saturated fat than conventional dairy and met products Yes No
Animals are given feed closely resembling what they would find and graze on in nature  Yes No
Farming practices contribute to decreased soil erosion; increased soil fertility, and reduced air and water pollution  Yes No
Food is free of commercial pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs)  Yes  Yes
Animals are never given artificial growth hormones (rBGH) or routine antibiotics Yes  Yes

How do you know which type you’re buying?

Unless your meat or dairy is labeled “grass-fed” or “pasture-raised,” it’s hard to know what you’re getting. However there are some brands – like Organic Valley – that value keeping cows on pasture as much as possible, and provide tools and resources to help their farmers achieve this.

What to look for

A label that says organic and pasture-raised.  Look for a brand that specifies which products are pasture-raised in addition to being organic –  like Organic Valley, Straus Family Creamery, or Stonyfield.  See the carton pictures above and below for an example.

pasture raised milk

*Some of this information was adapted from the Organic Valley website.


  • T
    March 5, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    Pasture raised or grass-fed does not mean 100% fed from a pastured food source. Straus grazes cows in pastures 80%. The other 20% is grain-feeds (sadly soy, flax, canola, corn) during winter months when they cannot graze in pastures.

  • Amelia
    March 5, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    You are absolutely right, thanks for clarifying this. Pasture-raised may not be 100% grass-fed – but when the cows go inside and eat food other than grass, it’s usually due to weather or another temporary environmental condition, which is vastly different from factory farm / grain-fed cows. Most cows in the U.S. only eat grass for their first 6 weeks of life, then they are moved to industrial farms where they eat grain feeds for the rest of their lives.

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