Dairy. For many of us this word evokes the wholesome goodness of Rosie the cow munching on a lovely grass pasture with blue skies and clouds drifting silently over the red barn backdrop. As recently as the mid-1900s, most dairies were like this throughout the US. The last 60 years have seen a revolution in milk production as the industrial model has been applied to dairy cattle. Now much of the milk produced in the United States comes from “mega dairies” with thousands of cattle, many of whom never taste fresh, green grass or feel the dirt beneath their feet, instead living their entire lives on concrete in a feedlot. It doesn’t have to be that way.
We at Alderspring have bought wonderful Rosie-the-cow-like products from Lifeline Farms, of Victor, Montana for over 20 years. Nestled at the foot of the snow-crested Bitteroot Mountain range, Lifeline Dairy was founded in 1984 and is run by husband and wife Ernie Harvey and Jen Holmes and their kids Isabelle and Liam. Together, they have built a successful dairy farm that is a return to the small scale dairies that once supplied our nation’s milk. However, Ernie and Jen have gone quite a few steps further to ensure not only the long term wellness of their dairy cows, but the wellness of their customers (sound like Alderspring?).
Here are some of the steps Lifeline Dairy has taken:
• Organic Certification. All of their protocol and products are chemical free as required in the USDA’s National Organic Program standards. That means not only no chemicals, hormones or antibiotics on their cows, but also means no chemical amendments or herbicides on their soils.
• Grass fed. We actually prefer the term "pastured" for dairy. We don't know of anyone online that is truly 100% grass fed, but the foundation of diet for Ernie and Jen’s Brown Swiss herd is grass that they grow. Ernie maintains a grazing paddock system not unlike Alderspring’s. Throughout the year, an average of 80% of their diet is grass (higher in the summer, and lower in the winter). Ernie and Jen supplement certified organic barley to their cows to maintain consistent nutrition and condition in spite of the vagaries of the mountain weather, never soy or corn. Another interesting note is that Lifeline has purchased hay from Alderspring for some 10 years—so maybe there is even a little Alderspring flavor in that butter!!!
• 100% non GMO. Ernie and Jen’s protocol is 100% GMO free as well as free from potential contamination because of the use of barley instead of corn or soy (the two grains most commonly used, and also the most common human grain allergens).
• Small Family Agriculture. When I talked to Jen several weeks ago, she said that they had about 80 cows making milk at that time. She knows them all by name, and their cows live as much as three to four times longer than most cows do today in the US. No mega dairy here.
• Certified Demeter Biodynamic. Have you ever heard of the term “Beyond Organic”? Many producers misuse these words, and falsely indicate to the reader that they already are organic. Ernie and Jen actually are Certified Organic, and on top of it, they are Certified Biodynamic. As Lifeline’s definition states: “What Biodynamic promotes is even more important than what it avoids. Soil, plants and animals are seen in a "larger" context, not simply as tools of agribusiness. The ideal Biodynamic farm is a self-sufficient system that enhances the ecological and nutritional environment of the plant resulting in foods which have better taste, longer shelf life and increased nutritional value.”
• Intact Soils. Lifeline’s soil integrity is similar to Alderspring’s: montane mineral-rich soils, high in soil biota, and high in plant diversity. The result is nutrient density in their dairy products that is incomparable…once again, it is a wild-like product from the intact soils of the Northern Rocky Mountain West, watered by snowmelt that falls in the remote peaks of Montana’s Bitterroot Mountain Range.
• Homegrown, and Home Processed. Ernie and Jen produce all of Lifeline’s milk, and process it in their own creamery in Victor, MT, where they handcraft their artisanal butter and cheeses.