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organic milk

Is organic milk worth the premium price tag?

Not all brands of milk are created equal. So how do you choose which brand to purchase? What exactly are you paying for when you purchase organic milk in Canada?

Growth hormones and antibiotics

Artificial growth hormones: The use of artificial growth hormones is not approved for sale in Canada or Europe. However, it is permitted in the USA.

Antibiotics: In Canada, if a cow gets sick and needs antibiotics, the cow’s milk supply is discarded for a mandatory period until her system is completely clear of the medication.

Canadian Milk

Purchasing dairy products produced in Canada supports our local farmers and also ensures that your milk, cheese and yogurt contain no artificial growth hormones or antibiotics. It’s simple to identify milk produced in Canada. Just look for the 100% Canadian Milk logo with the blue cow.

Organic milk

Last Spring we watched the documentary Food Inc. I’m embarrassed to admit that prior to this, I assumed that cows were raised on grass. I couldn’t have been more naive. I’ve learned since then that the diet of most cows is not grass, but grains.

Most of Canada is covered in snow for several months so it’s not possible to feed cows green grass all year long. However, farmers do have the option to harvest hay and other grassy forages which can be used to feed the cows in the colder months.

To keep their organic status, farmers must feed their cows a minimum of 60% grass/hay/forage and a maximum of up to 40% organic, non-GMO sourced grains.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m paying a premium for organic dairy products, I want the cows to feed on a diet that nature intended. Ever heard the phrase, “you are what you eat, eats?”

Grass-fed versus grain-fed (dairy) cows

In my search to find the best quality milk for my family, two Ontario milk producers stood out from the crowd. Both are small scale producers who are committed to their organic status, but they also go over and beyond what is required by Canadian law when it comes to animal welfare.

Sheldon Creek Dairy

Sheldon Creek Dairy is a small family owned and operated farm. Here’s the response I received for my email enquiring about their cows’ diet:

During the winter months we feed our cows forges we harvest during the fall. Hay, Barley, Alfalfa. These are grassy forges. Our cows do go out during the winter months, but just like us cannot be out there for long, they go out for an hour and a half a day sometimes 2 depending on how cold it is.

I followed up with a phone call because I wanted to know if these dairy cows were fed grains at any time. I was told that grains make up less than 10% of the cows’ diet.

Sheldon Creek produces Unhomegenized milk (cream on top) that is minimally pasteurized (the minimum that is required by Canadian law). It is sold in 1 litre glass bottles that are reminiscent of the old days. I have very fond memories of growing up in England and of the milkman that delivered bottles of milk to our front door!

Sheldon Creek Dairy products are not as widely available as conventional milk. If you live in Southern Ontario and want to locate a store that carries their milk bottles you can check their website for a list of stores (they also make sour cream and Greek style yogurts).

Harmony Organic

According to their website:

The emphasis on our animals’ wellbeing is the main objective of Harmony Organic. We go above and beyond to provide comfort and joy to our animals, by allowing them to live out their natural behaviour. As a result, our cows are happy and healthy, and are able to produce the best quality milk for you to serve to your family.

This was their response to my email:

In order for organic cows to maintain their organic status their diets must consist of a minimum of 60% hay/grass and a maximum of 40% grains.  All of our farms feed a ratio of closer to 80/20 and during the summer months when the cows are on fresh pasture they are fed no additional grains.

There is a great little video Perfect Harmony posted on their website. In the video (it’s about 10 mins long) the co-owners discuss their philosophy and their commitment to animal welfare.

Harmony Organic packages their milk in 1 litre glass bottles as well as in 4 litre plastic bags and in cartons. Their milk is available in most specialty health food stores. Again, you can check their website to find a store near you.

Homegenized milk vs. unhomegenized milk

We buy mostly unhomegenized milk because the milk includes the enzymes that aid in the digestion of milk. To me, it’s a matter of common sense. If nature includes enzymes in milk to aid with its digestion, why process the milk and remove the naturally occurring enzymes?

I’ve tried both Sheldon Creek and Harmony Organic and both taste great. However, I lean towards Sheldon Creek because the cream in their milk is easier to separate. It really does float to the top of the bottle! I just scoop it out and save it for my morning coffee. I also like to use a dollop on top of fresh fruit for an occasional treat!

Canadian milk

If the local store is out of Sheldon Creek I buy Harmony Organic homogenized milk. My kids won’t drink milk if they see bits of cream floating in it. For some reason, the cream in the Harmony Organic unhomegenized milk doesn’t all float to the top (although to be fair, most of it does – just not well enough for my picky kids!).  I don’t have this issue with the Sheldon Creek Unhomegenized milk :)

You do pay a premium for both brands of milk. The plastic bags by Harmony Organic are cheaper than the glass bottles and I would go this route if you can’t afford the glass bottles. As a family, we don’t go through as much milk as we used to. My husband and I both like to use almond milk in our smoothies and cereal/porridge (we love it!) and this has helped to reduce our overall (dairy) milk consumption.

I made a conscious decision to find organic sources of food, particularly food that originates from livestock. This includes eggs, milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, meat, fish, etc.

I am a firm believer in you are what you eat, eats.

Your Comments

12 comments… add one

  • Doreen October 26, 2016, 1:58 pm

    Try Organic Meadow, you will taste the difference. Their cown go out doors 365 a year even in the winter, unlike Harmony organic which gets 180 out doors a year.

    • Saida February 22, 2017, 9:12 pm

      I prefer unhomogenized milk and I’m pretty sure Organic Meadow don’t offer that option. I’m not sure about how often Harmony’s cows get out in Winter, but In their email response to me, Sheldon Creek stated that their cows do get to go out daily even in Winter for an hour and a half to two hours depending on the weather.

    • pinky May 13, 2017, 3:22 pm

      organic medow use gmo grain to their cows ..check their website….

    • pinky May 13, 2017, 3:29 pm

      ..

  • ss October 18, 2016, 3:46 pm

    Did you ask Sheldon Creek to confirm that the grains are not GMO? I wrote them twice but they did not reply. One poster claimed that the owner admitted to her on the phone that GMO grains were used. Does not make sense to me. Anyway, I read that dairy is inflammatory in general. Good to know that you are using more almond milk instead. Do you have a brand that you would recommend? I don’t like the presence of carrageenan nor any other junk ingredients. Thanks.

    • Saida February 22, 2017, 9:57 pm

      I don’t think I specifically asked Sheldon Creek about non-GMO grains. I’ll follow-up and post back here if I hear back from them.

      For the longest time, it was impossible to find any Almond Milk that didn’t contain carrageenan but lately stores have started carrying almond milk by Califia Farms which is carrageenan-free. I’ve tried it and it’s good, however, the ingredient list is a little longer than I like:
      Ingredients: Almondmilk (Water, Almonds), Vitamin/Mineral Blend (Calcium Carbonate, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin D2, Vitamin B12, Vitamin B2, Zinc), Sunflower Lecithin, Sea Salt, Potassium Citrate, Natural Flavors, Locust Bean Gum, Gellan Gum

  • SS October 17, 2016, 11:48 pm

    Thanks for the article. You wrote: In my search to find the best quality milk for my family, two Ontario milk producers stood out from the crowd.
    I am curious if you also checked out Eby Manor’s milk. The herd is Guernsey which provides A2 protein if I remember correctly. A2 protein is easier to digest. Holstein is A1, but if minimally pasteurized then it is easy to digest too. https://www.thestar.com/life/food_wine/2012/08/16/three_new_ontario_microdairies_launch_singleherd_milk.html

    • Saida February 22, 2017, 9:14 pm

      I haven’t tried Eby Manor milk. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that on the shelves. Eby Manor yogurt seems to ring a bell…

      I actually just found the email response I got from them. It is signed by Jim Eby. I hope it helps!

      “Our cows feed ration varies very little from season to season as cows
      like consistantsy. On a dry matter basis the cows eat 60-70% forages
      which is dry hay,high moisture hay and corn silage(chopped whole
      stalks).In the summer they get to forage on some grass.Approx.35% of
      thier ration is NON-GMO grain.We feed a total mixed ration,meaning all
      the feed is mixed together in a large mixer,other than the dry hay
      which is fed first thing ever morning.By feeding this way you slow
      down the digestion process,which is healthier for the cows.Our goal is
      to feed for the highest quality milk,and have healthy cows that will
      live and be productive for many years.Our oldest cow calved last night
      at 15 years of age.
      I have probably given you more information than you were looking
      for.We apprieciate your interst.Please feel free to contact us at any
      time.

  • Dairy Farmer March 16, 2016, 1:31 pm

    Good article, I liked your info about hormones & antibiotics. But just so you know, grain is not bad for cows, or the humans consuming the milk. Any cow, organic or conventional, cannot eat much more than a 40% grain diet without suffering from acidosis, so most conventional dairy farms feed a pretty similar amount of grain as organic farms. Plus grain is expensive, so farmers try to keep it to a minimum.

    • Saida October 17, 2016, 6:01 pm

      From what I understand, in Canada, dairy farmers can feed cows grain to a maximum of 60% when the milk is not organic. Dairy farmers that produce organic milk have to limit the grain fed to the dairy cows to a maximum of 40%. Dairy cows at Harmony and Sheldon Creek are fed a maximum of 20% and 10% grain, respectively.

  • Natasha May 25, 2015, 3:01 pm

    Thank you for posting this, has seriously helped!

    • Saida June 6, 2015, 3:39 pm

      I’m glad you found it useful!

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