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.
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.
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).
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!
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.