Monday, 13 December 2010

"Our Food Should Be Our Medicine....." now who said that?

“Our Food Should Be Our Medicine. Our Medicine Should Be Our Food” Hippocrates.
It is often said that “you are what you eat..” & that food quality is vital to our health.
Grass fed milk & meat clearly have a role in a healthy human diet. International groups of producers & consumers are forming groups like Slow Food. Well informed People in the UK are now making their views clearly heard as to what sort of food they would prefer & how they think farmers should produce it.
Surely now is the time to stand up for pasture fed milk in the UK
Conventional dairy farm pastures tend to be N fertilizer fed ryegrass only, whereas the innovative farmers in the "Pasture to Profit" network have low input & organic pastures tend to be quite diverse with white clover providing the nitrogen for the grasses in the sward. In the UK there is very little difference between the low input conventional pastures & the progressive organic dairy pastures.
However maybe we should change our pastures to include a more diverse planting. Many in the P2P network have already started to include species like Chicory.On some of the more difficult soils & drier areas farmers are experimenting with deeper rooting species such as Chicory.
These pastures look very different from conventional ryegrass pasture. The deep roots sometimes go as deep as a metre into the soil which taps into moisture & minerals well under the top soil.These mixed swards create diversity, nutritious dairy cow feed that is rich in minerals. These same herbs may assist in increasing Soil Organic Matter which is important for carbon storage in soils & plant access to nutrients. Farmers like Robert Richmond & Ben Mead are the leading pioneers with these new dairy pastures in the UK.
Grass fed milk appears to differ in the Phytochemicals (chemicals derived from plants) content, this maybe important in human cancer management.
On a recent study tour of northern Germany & Denmark we saw both Danish & German farmers including herbs like Chicory, Plantain, Caraway, Burnet, Birdsfoot Trefoil, parsley, Sainfoin & Chervil into their pasture mixes. Most were grazed out quickly but Chicory & Plantain were quite persistent.
Work was being done at the University of Kiel by Ralf Loges with a number of different herbs in pasture mixes.
In Denmark one organic milk company insisted all farmers include herbs in their pasture mixes.
So is this the future for pasture based dairy farmers? As there is little research in the UK into herbs in dairy pastures it will come down to individual farmers trying different mixes. What we will miss out on is the proof of the resultant health benefits of the milk coming from cows grazing these mixed swards that include herbs. Cotswold Seeds is a very good UK source of these herbal leys.
There are an increasing number of studies that are looking at Omega 3s & CLA in pasture fed dairy cows milk.
Grass fed milk (in many countries this is represented by the organic sector who feed more pasture compared to maize silage of the conventional dairy farmers in those countries) may also have higher Vitamin E content
Phytoestrogen may be linked to cancer prevention & has been shown to be higher in pasture fed dairy cows
Herbs & Methane?
Oregano has been found to significantly reduce methane emissions when fed to dairy cows. If you can reduce methane (cow farts & belching) that saving of energy means the cows produce more milk.
The challenge remains how to incorporate Oregano or the constituent chemicals into the dairy cows diet. Given that oregano originates in the Mediterranean

Herbs have been found to contain high levels of antioxidants.

Herbs, deep rooting leys are linked to the soil management of low input pasture based dairy farmers. Those experimenting are often coming from a better soil management view point & a concern about the monoculture of ryegrass.
Food is rapidly getting into the national agenda which is great as we want the issues debated & researched.A better informed consumer will hopefully be more healthy.

This is all very interesting & its taking us in new & exciting directions. What do you think? Please leave your comments below.