Pasture-Fed Meats, Eggs, Dairy

by Catherine Haug

(Updated Sept 24 to add a third local dairy: Kalispell Kreamery).

For the most part, your local supermarket, Costco, Wal-Mart and Whole Foods do NOT carry pasture-fed meats, eggs and dairy.  These sources are all part of the modern monoculture food system which thrives on low-cost, factory-style food production, cheap transportation costs to ship their products around the country, and stressed-out consumers who don’t have the time to fix healthful “slow-food” meals at home.

Instead, if you want healthful pasture-raised animal food products, you need to go to a local producer or local shops that specialize in locally produced meats, eggs and dairy products.

Not all local sources of fresh large-animal meats are pasture raised AND grass-finished, so be sure to ask your source.  Because most of the bulking-up of the animal happens during the finishing stage, its just as important to be grass-fed then as when they are growing up in the pasture.

Sources of Local Meat, Eggs, Dairy

Your best bet to find local sources of foods in the Flathead is the Farm Hands Map.  It’s available:

  • in hard copy at various places around the valley, including the Bigfork Chamber of Commerce office;
  • on the web: Who Is Your Farmer, in a more interactive form.  You can find the link on our site; scroll down through the right hand column, for the section “ESP Favorite Links.”  These are listed in alphabetical order.

We now have three sources of local milk in the Flathead:

  • Kalispell Kreamery, a local dairy. However, their cows are pasture-fed only during the months they are not being milked. During their milking season, they are fed a mixture of hay and grain.
  • Lifeline Farms, an Organic and bio-dynamic dairy in the Bitterroot (Victor, MT), and sometimes available at Withey’s in Kalispell and 3rd St Market in Whitefish. Bigfork Harvest Foods carries their butter and cheese.  Lifeline’s cows are fed strictly on pasture and hay.
  • Country Classics, a Bozeman cooperative to whom our Flathead commercial dairy farmers sell their milk.  It is sometimes available at Bigfork Harvest Foods and Sykes in Kalispell. These cows, for the most part,  are allowed to range in pasture, and supplemented with hay and grain.

See also Mercola’s page:  Promoting Sustainable Agriculture for more resources.

Why is pasture/grass feed important?

It’s better for the environment

This is especially true if the grass is a deep-rooted, carbon-sequestering native grass.  Plus, by allowing the animals to roam in pasture, their wastes are distributed throughout the field, where it composts in the soil. On the other hand the wastes of factory or feed-lot raised animals are washed away into sewers and streams where they can cause pollution problems.  The factory method also wastes more water.

Raising animals in pasture also gives them opportunity for exercise and exposure to the healing rays of the sun.

The recent outbreak of “swine” flu has brought another problem to light.  It is believed this disease developed on a particular hog farm, then spread to other hog farms as the animals were shipped around the continent as part of the modern way of doing business.  But pigs were not meant to be raised this way.  They were meant to be born, reared, bred and fattened on one family farm, not shipped to different farms at different stages of their life.

It’s ethical and humane

Pasture browse is the natural food for large animals, and helps them build a healthy immune system. Any other diet is hard on their bodies: the reason factory-farmed cattle and dairy cows are given antibiotic-laced feed, is because without the antibiotics, they would become “downers.”  Grain makes their guts too acidic, inviting a plethora of pathogens to take up residence and make the cows sick. The mutant strain of E. coli, that has made so many people sick from eating tainted meat or spinach, thrives in the guts of grain-fed cattle but not in the gut of a grass-fed cow.

Pasture also provides the natural diet for chickens and other poultry, including seeds, grubs and insects. And this leads to the rich dark yolks in their eggs, and a higher omega-3 and vitamin D content.  Not to mention, happier & healthier birds.

Also consider providing a more natural feed for your pet dogs and cats.  These animals are carnivores, cats even more so than dogs, and are harmed by a diet containing grain.  It is my belief that the abundance of grain in pet food is behind the current epidemic of diabetes in these pets.

Better and lower fat content; fat-soluble vitamins

A grass & pasture diet allows the animals to produce more Omega-3 fats whereas a grain diet leads to more Omega-6 fats in the meat.  While both are essential for the human diet, our modern diet is tipped too far in the Omega-6 direction, because it’s in vegetable oils, cereals, commercial meats, eggs and milk. By eating grass-fed, as opposed to grain-fed animal products, you can help tip your dietary balance to a more healthful state.

When dairy cows browse in pasture, especially in the spring, they produce the best cream, rich in medium-chain fatty acids, omega-3 fats, vitamins A, D and K (Weston Price’s X-Factor) essential to healthy hearts, arteries and bones, not only for the animals, but also for those of us who consume the milk/cream.   This is because their precursors are found in the grass they consume (but not in the grains).

The same pasture diet benefits cattle and other large animals raised for their meat. While vitamin A is present in their meat, milk and eggs, the richest source of vitamin D is in their livers. It’s important to choose liver from young animals (baby-beef or calve’s liver, for example), because toxins build up in the livers as the animals age.

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