Updated November 2015
This post is for those that have moved past the stage of researching Genetically Modified (GM) crops are are searching for ways to feed their animals food sources that do not contain any GMO’s.
Although contamination is making that hard to do – it’s worth trying!
In specific, diet for a dairy cow will be the main focus, but
many of these options can be put to good use for other animals as well.
Note: This article is referencing US GMO approval, not other countries.
Other country information IS AVAILABLE in the reference section, below!
Here are some things we do on our farm
to avoid GMO’s:
(And we’d love to hear from others what is working for them!)
Your primary source of feed, and while ability to obtain information about your hay may be limited, try to buy from someone you trust and someone that pledges not to use genetically modified seed. Additionally, if they tell you they do not spray, that’s a bonus. On the flip side, be willing to pay a little more to your conscientious hay farmer! If you have the ability and land to make your own hay – lucky you! (GM crops include certain varieties of: alfalfa, grass, corn)
Often grain is also a primary source of feed. Grain should be a supplement, not a main staple! On our farm, we decided we cannot afford large quantities of grain any more. Instead, we:
- “Keep the animals you can feed” is our motto! (Meaning, don’t overcrowd your farm land!)
- breed cows to be “easy keepers” (ones that maintain good condition year-round)
- meat animals are raised milk & grass-fed
- chickens are free-ranged, supplemented whole grains (barley is working well for us these days) soaked in fresh milk for 24 hours.
Everyone has access to:
- free-choice loose AND block Selenium salt
- minerals (species specific, some offered free choice, some added to feed)
- fresh water and in winter, tempered water (via water heaters)
- summer pasture (better than any grain!)
- in winter we try to find the highest quality hay.
- The best hay can supply a cow with most, if not all of her nutritional needs (some grain for early-lactation dairy cows is often still necessary to meet energy needs beyond what hay provides).
- Good pasture is preferable over hay if available (good pasture has more energy than hay, therefore is a more balanced feed for protein AND energy level needs. This is one reason to consider spring or early summer calving.)
You’ll save on vet bills too by not having sick animals as often: Grain can easily cause acidosis, a serious digestive system condition that affects the cows in many ways and increases her chances of becoming sick from pathogenic bacteria.
Milk cow/chicken grain:
An exception to the grass-fed rule is that most dairy cows and chickens really do need some extra energy. I have seen a few cows that could do OK on a zero grain diet, but those types of cows are hard to come by. So, long-term, breed your gals for strength and sustenance. Ask around to find out which bulls will take a needy cow and give you an easy keeping calf. Then breed up your herd. There’s good money in selling these offspring, too!
If you do feed grain, there’s the option of organic grain:
- Cheapest is whole grain you mill and mix yourself.
- More expensive is prepared mixed grain.
- Most organic grain I’ve see in in a powdery form. If feeding grain in ground/powdered form, mixing with some molasses or ACV (for cows) & milk (for the chickens or pigs) makes the grain much more palatable.
Be sure to keep access to loose salt and minerals suitable to your location and species if you are not feeding a prepared grain mix (that contains a mix of minerals)!
(GM crops include certain varieties of: corn, wheat, canola, cotton, soy)
A fresh cow really does do well when given soaked beet pulp. Commercial beets are laden with pesticides and almost all are GM. You’re options are to either not feed beets or find a safe source. I’ve heard of an organic beet pulp being sold, but haven’t seen it locally. We do feed beet pulp, so we make our own (click for instructions how to grow and make your own).
We also feed OAT HAY as a substitute to beet pulp which is excellent for helping maintain body condition and rumen function.
Side note, we are choosing with our bees to not feed them any GM or non-organic sugar if possible (they’ll get their own honey primarily, organic or cane sugar if necessary).
(GM crops include certain varieties of: sugar beets, sugar cane is in testing but not approved yet.)
Cows love a little sweetness with their grain, and a constipated cow can be cleaned out by feeding molasses water (a plugged up fresh cow is a bad thing!). Molasses is again, often from sugar beets. There are organic molasses options available at some feed stores. You can also try to purchase sugar cane (vs sugar beet) products, if their source is noted on the ingredients list.
We have an abundance of apple trees (keep following me, I do have a point!) and make several gallons of Apple Cider, most of which gets turned into vinegar. One year I boiled down several gallons into syrup and it’s so very potent that we use it quite sparingly on hot cakes. That means I still have tons of it left! Which got me to thinking: Apple Cider Syrup = a organic alternative to molasses!! (Because we don’t spray or do anything bah-humbug to our apple trees.)
(GM crops include certain varieties of: sugar beets, sugar cane is in field trials in the US.)
Apple Cider Vinegar:
Many people love to use ACV for their animals and now Washington has GM non-browning apples. (Sadness!) Again, back to the trusty apple trees – vinegar is essentially a free product for us and ACV is super easy to make (click here to see how!) We recently purchased Wickson and Golden Russet cider apples and have high hopes for further improving the taste of our cider!
(GM crops include certain varieties of: apple – pear & grape in trials only)
Oh, wait, we don’t have genetically modified water yet … DO WE?
How to make your own Apple Cider Vinegar: https://spiritedrose.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/how-to-make-vinegar.jpg?w=660
GMO Compass: http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/database/plants/
ISAAA Database for GM approved crops: https://isaaa.org/gmapprovaldatabase/cropslist/default.asp
Drought Fighters: http://craftsmanship.net/drought-fighters/
Some of my farmer friends disagree with me on the issue of Genetic Modification and their argument is, “Farmers do not need government telling them what to do!” (I do tend to agree with that statement in general!)
My response to them in this specific situation is that they must be in favor of GMO’s if they are not against them. NOT because I want the government regulating one more thing, but because we DON’T have the independent ability to say, “I am not going to participate.” Genetically Modified crops DO pollinate with other crops – and if your crops are contaminated, YOU are held liable! Shouldn’t my farm have the right to not become genetically modified because of cross-pollination?
Many farmers do plant genetically modified crops and pesticide residue (chemicals are genetically grafted into plant DNA) in crops is showing up at an appalling rate in foods that humans consume! (Pesticides were meant to be applied on the outside of a plant, then sunlight breaks down most of the chemical after a few days. Implanting into DNA means that chemical can never break down. Meaning if you eat that crop…you’re eating that pesticide straight up!)
Regardless of government, each farmer has the ability to say “NO!” to planting GMO crops. I applaud you if you are one!