cows walking down a path through a pastureThe small herd of Clover Mountain Dairy Jersey cows is moved daily on pasture. Their milk is vat pasteurized and bottled on site. With help from a grant from PCC Community Markets, Clover Mountain is building a cave for its new line of cheeses. Photo courtesy of Clover Mountain Dairy.

Long overdue rule underscores the cost and care of raising organic calves

[This article was previously published in the summer issue of the Cultivator, Cornucopia’s quarterly newsletter. Donate today to protect organic integrity and receive our fall issue in print.]

For years after they purchased their land, and before they even welcomed their first calf, Virginia and Stacy Thomas of Clover Mountain Dairy contemplated how to thoughtfully steward calves to heifers and onto motherhood, studying old extension magazines and touring dairy farms. One morning during the first grazing season, the couple watched in awe as Buttercup, the cow that officially made them dairy farmers, chewed grass in the April sun while simultaneously nursing her calf Rainy.

Meanwhile, through a loophole in the law, the industrial organic mega-dairies dominating the market have been able to skirt this process altogether by purchasing and “converting” animals raised on antibiotics and pesticide-sprayed, GMO feed.

This gamesmanship is finally getting flagged. After years of pressure from Cornucopia and its colleagues, USDA’s final rule on Origin of Livestock goes into effect this June (with a compliance date of April 2023).

“We have all spent far too long pressing USDA to stop this conveyor belt of conventional animals entering ‘organic’ dairies,” says Cornucopia Policy Director Kestrel Burcham, JD. “We are cautiously optimistic that this rule will get the job done, if it’s enforced.”

Along with their cheap milk, “organic” mega-dairies sell you a narrative of “sustainable” or “regenerative farming” that will never live up to authentic organic dairy production.

At Clover Mountain, calves are not separated from their mommas. It’s a practice that plenty of people questioned, saying it would cost them money and hassle. But the small certified organic dairy in Northeast Washington is thriving, and the health of the herd is undeniable. The calves run with the cows on pasture, learning from their elders by mimicking their behaviors.

Together, they are teaching the farmers the value of getting out of nature’s way.

Authentic organic dairy production provides benefits for soil, human, and environmental health. Support these options by choosing local organic dairy or using our Organic Dairy Scorecard. Learn more about the organic dairy crisis here.

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