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

A second case of COVID-19 has been confirmed at Vernon’s BX Elementary School. (Kerry Hutter photo)
Second COVID case confirmed at Vernon elementary school

Exposure at BX Elementary happened April 6 and 7

Highway 97 being converted to four lanes in April 1990. This photo taken in Lake Country. (Greater Vernon Museum and Archives Photo #14025)
HISTORY: How the old Highway 97 in Lake Country got new name

Pelmewash Parkway recognizes the First Nations history in Lake Country

Salmon Arm Silverbacks defenceman Kieran Ruscheinski (right) sticks close to Vernon Vipers forward Logan Lorenz during Salmon Arm’s 2-1 overtime win in B.C. Hockey League pod play Saturday, April 10, at Kal Tire Place. (Lisa Mazurek - Vernon Vipers Photography)
Mack attack paces Salmon Arm Silverbacks past Vernon

Sullivan Mack scores both goals, including beautiful OT winner, in Gorillas’ 2-1 BCHL pod play win over Snakes

Paddlewheel Park off Okanagan Landing Road, Vernon. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Vernon council looks to address parking shortage at Paddlewheel Park

City staff are looking into short, medium and long-term overflow parking options

(GVMA)
WATCH: A Royal procession through Vernon, 1959

Prince Philip, who died April 9 at 99, visited Vernon on a tour of Canada in 1959

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

These nails were collected off the Campbell Mountain bike trails in Penticton this weekend. Someone placed them all over the trail. (Facebook)
Hundreds of nails placed on popular Penticton bike trail

A mountain biker took to Facebook to warn others about the nails

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

Flight with COVID
Another Kelowna flight with COVID-19 exposure

Westjet flight on April 5 from Kelowna to Edmonton

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

Most Read