We’ve been using a soy-free feed on our farm since we purchased our first cow back in 2009. In my mind, soy is the most deadly foodstuff on the market, and I absolutely do not want my children consuming any more than they have to. I am fairly satisfied with our current feed mix, but I have talked to both shareholders and prospective shareholders about trying for a GMO-free feed, too. Let’s talk this through.
Are GM Foods Actually Dangerous?
I am not personally convinced that genetically modified foods are dangerous in and of themselves. Most people who believe they are will say something like: “We’re consuming DNA now that our bodies were never meant to utilize.” The reality is, though, that we change the DNA of our plants and livestock all the time. It’s called selective breeding. Every time we save the seeds from that one tomato that didn’t get blight, or hatch the eggs from just our best layers, we’re altering the characteristics – and DNA – of the species.
The GMO crops in question have been altered in the lab, primarily for resistance to the herbicide Roundup. This allows farmers to spray their fields in order to kill weeds without affecting their crops. I don’t think the main problem here is the change in the plants’ DNA; the existence of Roundup-resistant weeds suggests that, over time, corn, too, could have naturally mutated into a resistant variety. I think the real problem is the Roundup.
I’ve read a fair bit of research lately about the effects of the miniscule amounts of Roundup residue that may be in our GM foods, and it’s pretty bad. I also checked to see if the cows could possibly act as a filter for the residue, but it seems Roundup passes through milk. Not only that, but it appears to build up in the body, like mercury. Lifetime exposure matters.
Our Current Feed
We have our feed custom-mixed by Richard Uhl in Corydon, Indiana. It contains:
30% distillers grain
20% corn gluten
The distillers grain actually comes from our local distilleries, and wonder of wonders, they do not accept GMO grains. The corn gluten is trucked in from Cincinatti, and Richard suspects it is probably a byproduct of ethanol production. That means it will be from GM corn and will most likely contain Roundup residues. The wheat is all locally sourced, and in spite of an article circulating to the contrary, none of it has been sprayed with any herbicide. Also, there are no GM wheat varieties on the market. Oats are not GM, either, but they aren’t grown around here; our oats arrive from somewhere up north. I suspect that the oats, like wheat, are actually not routinely sprayed, especially by smaller farms, and can be considered safe.
That means we have a single ingredient that can not be assumed to be free of Roundup residue – the corn gluten – and each cow consumes approximately 1.6 pounds of it each day.
To put this in perspective a little bit, the daily diet of each cow in the winter consists of about 40 pounds of grass hay, 10 pounds of alfalfa, and 8 pounds of our grain mix, which includes the corn gluten. They also still forage a little in the pastures. The corn gluten makes up less than 3% of their total diet.
Alternatives to Corn Gluten
We’re looking at legumes, probably peas or lentils. Legumes are the only feedstuff that approximates the protein and energy profile of the corn gluten. On the positive side, I think it’s a more nutritious option for the cows, and therefore for us who drink their milk. On the negative side, peas and lentils are not grown locally, and like oats, they’re going to be expensive. I may have to adjust the balance of the other ingredients, too. I feed alfalfa hay summer and winter, and that is also a legume. Too many legumes in the diet cause loose stools.
The Bottom Line
Unless I’m able to locate a cheaper source of peas or lentils, it’s going to translate into a $4.00 increase in monthly share costs, as well as increases in the price of cream, butter and cheese.
What do you think, prospective and current shareholders? Is eliminating GMO corn gluten important enough to you that you’re willing to pay for it? Or are you willing to live with the small amount of GMO feed in the cows’ diet? This is going to be entirely up to you!