With USDA Organic Dairy in Decline, Grass-Fed Sales Are Booming
But even as demand increases for grass-fed milk, many producers aren’t earning a decent living
Jon and Miranda Powers live in a white clapboard farmhouse in a sparsely populated part of New York state where the foothills of the Adirondacks spill down toward the Erie Canal. Across from the house is a red barn, and around it, expanses of pasture broken up by the occasional cluster of poplar trees. On a cold, sunny morning in April, before the ground has begun to thaw, Jon and Miranda and I stand in the field behind their house, watching 50 woolly cows go to town on a fresh bale of hay.
Miranda, who wears jeans and a blue hooded sweatshirt, her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, points out what she calls the herd’s boss cow: a large, dark cow named Sweettart, with a demeanor so imposing that the others wait for her to start eating. A blond, leggy cow named Pond, who reminds me, for reasons that I cannot articulate, of Rose Nylund from “The Golden Girls,” drifts away from the feeding frenzy to give us a closer look.
My conceptions of farm life have been formed pretty much entirely by children’s books and the pictures on the front of milk cartons, so this seems to me like a typical enough tableau: big red barn, animals with names, hay bales, the works. But Miranda assures me that what we’re looking at here at Grazeland Jerseys in Holland Patent, New York, is, in fact, weird: So weird that she and Jon have hesitated to enroll their boys in 4-H with the other local farm kids, for fear they will be teased.
“Yeah, we’re freaks,” Jon says. “But I’m cool with it.”
For starters, the cows are outdoors. It’s standard practice around here to confine them to barns during the cold months, but Jon and Miranda don’t see how that makes sense. For every day the cows are inside, someone has to haul in their feed and haul out their manure. For every day the cows are outside, they can fertilize the pasture, and the remnants of their hay bales help enrich the soil. The Powers started leaving the cows outside for more and more of the winter, discovering that the animals were seemingly happy and healthy in all but the bitterest conditions.