The Brown Swiss cows inside Creekside Dairy’s barn on a rainy spring day in 2019. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

The Brown Swiss cows inside Creekside Dairy’s barn on a rainy spring day in 2019. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

#Buttergate: When it comes to cows, you are what you eat

The second in a three part series on dairy farming, palm oil and Canadian consumers

There are around 100 Jersey, Guernsey and Brown Swiss cows who are responsible for the artisan cheeses, yogurts and butter on the shelves at Farmhouse Natural Cheeses in Agassiz.

Those cows spend most of the year grazing in the pasture, and Farmhouse’s wholesale manager Dana Dinn says you can tell the difference in their milk when they aren’t.

“When the cows are outside eating the lush grass, you can see the colour in the milk,” she explained. “It goes more yellow from the beta keratin in the grass.”

When the cows are in the barn for the winter, their milk is significantly more pale. But, because they are being fed on a mixture of hay and grain rations, it is also creamier.

“Picture them eating on strictly grass,” Dinn said. “It’s like eating a salad.”

The grain, on the other hand, “boosts the production a little bit, and the butterfat content.”

For cows, the old adage is definitely true: you are what you eat.

That is why consumers have taken to social media after Dalhousie researcher Sylvain Charlebois and food columnist Julie Van Rosendaal separately pointed to palm fats being the potential culprit behind firmer butter.

RELATED: #Buttergate: Concerns around hard butter hit Agassiz and beyond

On Feb. 15, after Charlebois and Van Rosendaal had posted about firm butter but before it took off in the media, agricultural news organization Real Agriculture published an article on the use of palm oil in dairy diets responding to #buttergate.

Palm oil is an approved feed ingredient in Canada, and has been used for years to increase the butterfat content in milk because it acts as a bypass fat.

As Lactanet COO Daniel Lefebvre explained in his interview with Real Agriculture, palm oil naturally contains a lot of palmitic acid, which is a type of saturated fatty acid, as well as other fats. Some of the products used in cow feed contain a purified kind of palm fat, which has more palmitic acid.

“That create a fat that is very inert, and doesn’t affect cow digestion,” Lefebvre explained. The saturated fat can pass through the cow’s rumen — the first stomach, which partially digests food with the help of bacteria — without impacting how the food is digested. The fat is later picked up in the intestines, where it is absorbed into the bloodstream and used to make butterfat.

Lefebvre said that there is no way to tell by a spot test whether a particular herd is being fed palm fat or not, because the increase in butterfat from the supplement is within the normal fluctuation for palmitic acid in Canadian dairy cows.

“There’s other herds that are not feeding any palm based supplements that have even higher palmitic acid content,” he said, as butterfat content can be impacted by their feed, genetics and other factors.

RELATED: Agassiz dairy farmers celebrated at annual awards

Kent councillor and long-time dairy farmer Duane Post does feed palm fat to his cows, which his family has been milking on his Agassiz farm since the 1960s.

Post’s cows are fed mainly from the grass and corn he grows on his farm. He supplements their meals with soybean meal, canola meal, a vitamin and mineral supplement, and a small amount of certified sustainable palm fat, less than one per cent of their total rations.

Post works with his veterinarian and nutritionist to come up with the feed package his cows are given, and they meet at the farm every two weeks to review the cows’ health.

Not every farm uses the same mixture of grain, forage and supplements in their feed — and Post said that’s one of the things he appreciates about the industry.

“That’s one of the things I like about dairy farming,” Post said. “There’s 450-some-odd farms in the province, yet each one is individual in the decisions they make on their farm.”

Despite the individuality, certain things are universal: all supplements have to be FDA approved, and nutritionists are always involved. Although production is how farmers make their money, it can’t happen without a concern for the herd’s well-being.

“We strive, first and foremost, to have healthy cows,” Post said. “Without a healthy cow, you’re not going to achieve any production goal, it doesn’t matter … how you feed your cows. It’s healthy cows that will perform. And that’s no different than any other animal.”

RELATED: UBC study shows dairy cows prefer pasture, reap health benefits from outdoor access

The supply management system means that each dairy farmer in Canada is responsible for supplying a portion of the milk used to create products like cheese, ice cream, skim milk and butter. But rather than being given a quota based on litres of milk, the dairy farmers are given their quota based on kilograms of butterfat.

“When we have to manage how much our cows produce, it’s based on how much butterfat each cow produces each day,” dairy farmer Julaine Treur explained.

Treur’s herd of Brown Swiss cows at Creekside Dairy are pastured in the summer, and also fed on farm-grown forage and ground peas, with a vitamin and mineral mix. As an organic farmer, she isn’t allowed to use some of the supplements like palm fats which help increase butterfat, although the breed of cow helps make up for that.

“You always are aware of what your cow’s butterfat percentage is based on their production, so then we know if we are falling within or without of our quota,” she said.

Canadian demand for butterfat has been increasing every year, and when demand goes up, farmers need to increase their production too.

“Every dairy farmer in Canada has a little piece of the Canadian dairy market,” David Weins, vice-president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada said. “We all work together.”

“When there’s a strong demand for milk and dairy products, it will ultimately be reflected in how much milk needs to be produced,” he explained. “We’ll all increase our production across the country to increase that amount so the market has enough milk to meet those demands.”

When COVID-19 hit, Canadians began using more dairy products at home. People like Charlebois wondered if that was driving more farmers to use palm oil supplements in their feed to try and meet that demand.

Check out the Agassiz Harrison Observer next week to learn about how supply management in Canada’s dairy industry was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and what the next steps are in the #buttergate saga. Read the first article in the series here.



news@ahobserver.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

AgassizDairy Farmers

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

ANKORS commemorated those who died due to drug poisoning at International Overdose Awareness Day on Sept. 1, 2020. Photo: Tyler Harper
Trail, Rossland advocates commemorate lives lost to opioid crisis

Wednesday marks five years since B.C. declared the opioid crisis a provincial health emergency.

”Societies that allow the voices of dissent to be silenced cannot call themselves democratic,” writes Dave Carter. Photo: Brian Wangenheim on Unsplash
Letter: The dangers of censorship

Letters to the Editor can be emailed to editor@trailtimes.ca

On April 6, Pacific Coastal Airlines marked 15 years of providing air service at the Trail Regional Airport. Photo: Twitter @PacificCoastal
Carrier celebrates 15 years at Trail airport

Pacific Coastal Airlines has adopted additional safety measures during the pandemic.

Giant prize-winning pumpkins and squash are standard fare at the Pass Creek Fall Fair. Photo: Betsy Kline
Pass Creek Fall Fair cancelled for 2021

Event cancelled for second time

Police are advising of a scam actively happening in the Kootenay Boundary, one that involves a person trying to sell the victim gold for cash. Problem is, the gold is fake. Photo: Matt Flores on Unsplash
Fake gold scam re-surfaces in the Kootenay Boundary

Victims are approached in high-traffic areas by someone claiming to need emergency cash

St. Joseph School Grade 2 student Zoey Kenny watches as Christopher Yates shows her how to string a new drum using hide from his own cows. Photo: Tyler Harper
VIDEO: With good intentions, Nelson school builds Métis drum

The St. Joseph School project is directed by parent Christopher Yates

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Defence counsel for the accused entered two not guilty pleas by phone to Grand Forks Provincial Court Tuesday, Jan. 12. File photo
B.C. seafood company owner fined $25K for eating receipt, obstructing DFO inspection

Richmond company Tenshi Seafood is facing $75,000 in fines as decided March 4 by a provincial court judge

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 2, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. NDP ministers defend ‘air tax,’ latest COVID-19 business aid

Empty home tax doesn’t apply to businesses, but space above them

In Ontario, COVID-19 vaccine clinics have been set up at local mosques. (Submitted photo: Rufaida Mohammed)
Getting the vaccine does not break your fast, says Muslim COVID-19 task force

Muslim community ‘strongly’ encouraging people to get their shot, whether or not during Ramadan

A plane is seen through the window on the tarmac of Vancouver International Airport as the waiting room is empty. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
100+ international travellers who landed in B.C. refused to quarantine

The Public Health Agency of Canada says it issued $3,000 violation tickets to each

A health-care worker holds up a vial of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Montreal, Thursday, March 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
PHAC receives first report of blood clot linked to AstraZeneca

The federal agency says the person is now recovering at home

A real estate sign is pictured in Vancouver, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS Jonathan Hayward
1 in 3 young Canadians have given up on owning a home: poll

Data released Monday says 36% of adults younger than 40 have given up on home ownership entirely

Most Read