I would like to highlight two special places- Vital Farms and Organic Pastures. These farms commercially sell eggs and dairy products, but both are Certified Humane, and offer the best care to their animals that I have seen in these industries.
Vital Farms, which produces eggs, is made up of several family-owned farms, all of which have been inspected and deemed humane, through the Humane Farm Animal Care (HFCA) guidelines. The hens are pasture-raised, meaning that they each have 108 sq ft of land to forage. Along with the nutrition they get from the pastures (mostly grass and bugs), the hens receive a formulated meal, in some cases organic and others not. (There are different egg varieties.) 108 square feet is based on a study by the HFCA's 28-member scientific committee that found that a flick of 1,000 hens needs one hectare, or just under 108,000 square feet, to adequately forage. Some egg companies like Pete and Gerry's believe that 108 sq ft per hen is unsustainable and a waste of land, as most of the time hens prefer to be indoors, and a whole flock hardly ever forages at one time. This leaves the hens that are foraging with ample space, makes it easier for farmers to join in the company, (it's easier to afford less land) lower pricing (as there are lower bills in the part if the company) for the public, and because of that, more humanely produced eggs. For free-range producers, HFCA mandates that each hen be given two sq ft of outdoor land each (USDA laws only require “access” to outdoors; which can literally be a tiny hole most chickens won't have access to). Companies like Pete and Gerry's meet this requirement and sell for less, which is great, but I believe that Vital Farms uses the superior treatment. I don't see 108 sq ft per hen as unsustainable because that land can have alterior uses. As the hens forage, they turn the soil and naturally fertilize it, without overdoing it since the population density is so low. When hens are moved over other pastures or to settle in their coop, the soil recuperates and can be fortified with specific crops. Some, it is used as a dairy pasture, as Vital Farms produces butter as well. (The focus is on eggs though.) The only two drawbacks of Vital Farms are the price- about $7.99 a dozen, and the fact that the company has no hatcheries, so they do not control nor do they know whether or not young roosters were culled. However, the company is investing into an instrument that can be used to determine the sex of the hatchling. Infrared technology is used to trim the beaks of the chicks, but this is done so that the hens do not peck each other to death. In fact, this behavior, which is done to determine the social order of the flock, is more common among pasture-raised hens, although the practice is done (and often less humanely. Infrared beak trimming lasts seconds and numbs the beak so the tip falls off, when a chick is no more than one day old. Other methods wait until the chicks are a bit older, and actually cut through the developed beak.) in free-range, cage-free, and other egg-producing factories. Another thing that I like about Vital Farms is that they have footage of some of their farms on YouTube. There is actually a video of hens foraging for a whole hour! The eggs themselves are brown (because of the type of hen used), offer more Omega-3 fatty acids (good fats associated with brain health), and have a richer-tasting dark yolk, with the same calorie, protein, and cholesterol content of a “regular” egg. Cartons even come with a little update on the company, which is nice to facilitate consumer relationships.
HFCA doesn't list many cow dairy farms-most dairies listed are goat farms. (In which I would support Redhill Farms as the best). However, one listed cow dairy is Organic Pastures, which sells raw milk, raw cheddar cheese, raw cream, raw kefir, and raw butter. Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. This might sound like a bad thing, as pasteurization is known to kill bacteria. However, bacteria infestations of milk are usually caused by inhumane procedures that compromise the health of the cow, such as overexposure to manure, and a lack of time between milkings. Bacterial growth is always a possibility though, so the company chills and tests their milk. There have been a few incidents of releasing infected milk, but the company voluntarily recalled, and nobody was hurt. Why not just pasteurize the milk? (Which is done by heating it to about 165 degrees Fahrenheit for seconds or 147 degrees Fahrenheit for minutes). Well, raw milk has the benefits of prebiotics and the inclusion of enzyme lactase, which eliminates problems for the lactose intolerant without having to recombine lactase into the milk as most lactose-free companies do. Prebiotics, like probiotics, help with digestion. Heating milk to such high temperatures denatures enzyme proteins and kills good bacteria. While there are other raw milk dairies, Organic Pastures is practically the only one that doesn't “cheat.” Most raw milk dairies heat the milk just below 265 degrees Fahrenheit so they can claim the raw milk label and health benefits, although it is most likely that they don't exist, as bacteria and enzymes would be inactivated at 164 degrees just as at 165. Organic Pastures, however, never heats their milk products to over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, which is necessary in cheese making. Raw cheddar is simply cheddar cheese made from whole, raw milk. Healthy fats are thus found in cheddar, but the same calorie, protein, and cholesterol levels are maintained. The cheese is yellow because no annatto (coloring derived from the anchiote tree.) is added to turn it orangey, but enough nutrients in the cows’ grass-like diet gives the cheese a natural yellow color that varies in hue by season. There aren't any added ingredients, and the cheese is made using vegetable rather than animal rennet, so it is vegetarian. Another thing that Organic Pastures does to it's milk is that it doesn't homogenize it. Homogenization is the blending of milk and cream so that it doesn't separate. Whole milk from Organic Pastures will thus contain a layer of cream atop, and you can either mix it in yourself or skim it off. If you get Organic Pastures’ skim milk, then the cream has been removed for you. So if you want a dairy product with the health benefits of raw milk, you must get Organic Pastures.
If the fact that the milk and cheese isn't pasteurized bothers you, you can actually pasteurize it yourself. Before trying the product, I was worried about how oily raw cheddar would be. I called the company to ask them about the texture, how the cream works with the skim milk, and how I could safely order cheese for delivery at my future dorm. (This product is mostly sold at Sprouts, which isn't present where I will be going to college. However, the company can conveniently ship products.) The woman who answered (a big plus for customer service!) was really nice and helpful, answering all my questions. She told me that the natural oil varies by time of year, as the cows have less to forage in winter. Usually, the only time she noticed a raised amount of oil was when she melted it on a quesadilla. She also noted that the taste could be slightly impacted, that the best storage was in the freezer once opened, and that if you heat the cheese too much, you could denature the enzymes that kill the bacteria (good and bad). Because I don't like oily cheese, I decided to self-process it by melting the shreds in soy milk with minimal garlic salt, and adding Jel (a vegan, algae and citric acid-based gelatin) to emulsify the oil and moisture of the cheese. Then, I refrigerated it into a mold and cut it into slices. This was successful. The cheese tasted like any other cheddar but a little less salty, with a sour cream-like undertone. The DIY cheese slices melt like a Kraft single or Velveeta, and has the flavoring of true cheese and is humanely produced. Although not as healthy as eating the cheese before processed, it is healthier than store bought processed cheese, having less preservatives.
While it may sound like I am endorsing Organic Pastures’ products for the reason of their health benefits, the most important reasons I am endorsing them are the humane treatment the company offers their cows, and the environmental consciousness of the company. Most dairy cows are subject to intensive milking, hormones, crowded areas, sawdust-filled grains to feed on, separation from calves at an inappropriate age, and a sheltered indoor life. At Organic Pastures, around 150 to 200 cows make up a herd, and they are taken out for grazing hours a day. They get their exercise, Vitamin D, social interaction, and nutrients not found in grainy feed. This diet helps them to not get bloating, and to maintain a healthy weight. As the cows are organic, new ones come in every so often. HFCA has requirements on the age of calf withdrawal, transportation of cattle, and humane artificial insemination in the case these practices are used. The cows of Organic Pastures represent a variety of breeds, encouraging biodiversity. Not only are the typical Holstein and Jersey cows used, but Ayrshire, Normande, Guernsey… the list goes on. Because they are organic, the cows cannot be treated with antibiotics unless directed by a veterinarian (veterinary visits are a requirement of HFCA), and in that case the cow would no longer be usable for milk production. Organic Pastures is known for preventing this through therapy work and home remedies, such as essential oils for an upset stomach. Organic Pastures provides a shaded feeding area to supplement cows for missing nutrients, and the cows tend to actually prefer it. However, the company claims that grazing is still better for them. The method of grazing used is called mob grazing, in which a herd will be allowed to graze in a restricted area of pasture for three hours, and then moved over to a different area rotationally. This allows the part of the grass with the most nutrients to be eaten (top 3 inches), while the rest stays rooted in the soil. With that grass untouched for a week, by the time the cows are brought back to that section, the grass has regained those top 3 inches. Thus, mob grazing improves both cow and soil health. The soil is also guarded by recycled water, reused manure, and no addition of pesticides or artificial fertilizers. Organic Pastures also uses solar power as a primary source of energy for their farm, and always recycles resources when possible, shying away from overuse of natural habitat. The Cornucopia Institute, which focuses on agricultural sustainability, gives Organic Pastures s 5/5 rating.
Another thing I like about Organic Pastures is that they are very involved with their customers. Tours are allowed so you can actually meet with the cows, and events like “Camping with the Cows” are hosted. Like Vital Farms, they also have a YouTube channel.