Friday, July 13, 2012

Sudan Grass: A Lifesaver In July

July doesn't seem to be the best time for grass-fed cows... by this point in the year, the grasses and clover are dry and brown, parched from lack of rain and blasted by two weeks of 90-plus degree heat.

But my bovine friends need not fear, for they will be happily munching on fresh, green sudan grass next week. Sudan grass is a warm weather crop that is indigenous to (can you guess?) Eastern Africa.

Farmers who graze with sudan grass need to be a little careful, because it can be dangerous to cows when it's young, due to an overabundance of the cyanide and nitrates that make it grow. Additionally, if the grass is affected by drought and a sudden rainstorm appears, the same chemicals can show up and poison the cows.

For a farmer, making sure a grass-fed herd has access to pasture all year is a daunting proposition, and involves a lot of pre-planning. Hay needs to be grown, mown and baled. Warm weather crops must be planted weeks, sometimes months, in advance. Fences need to be put up and taken down, usually on a daily basis. Thinking of all the factors involved is like trying to solve a giant agricultural Rubik's Cube.

But the payoff can be enormous. Milk from pastured cows is demonstrably better for you - there are higher levels of fat soluble vitamins like A and D, not to mention omega 3 fatty acids, CLA's (the "good" cholesterol) and beta-carotene, which is what gives milk from grass-fed cows its delightful yellow color. What the cows eat affects the taste of their milk, as well - in my experience, pastured dairy cows produce sweeter milk than anything you will find in a grocery store.

I haven't tried it myself, but I think the cows are going to be delighted.

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