By: Jake Laxen, St. Cloud Times
When Neal Klaphake needs to round up his herd of 80 dairy cows, he turns to a trusted cattle call.
"Come, boss," the farmer yells.
"When I holler that, they know it's time to come home," Klaphake explains. "It goes back to when I was little boy. That's what my dad said when he (was herding)."
But this isn't his father's farm.
Klaphake turned the 260-acre property he grew up on into a certified organic farm in 2003. His milk is sold locally under the Organic Valley label.
To meet the organic standards, Klaphake grazes his cattle by daily transferring them to different grass feeding patches. They can't use any hormones, antibiotics or steroids.
"Conventional farming gets more milk from a cow — they push them harder — but we are after the quality," Klaphake told the St. Cloud Times. "And because our cows get out and get to move around, they end up living much longer."
Cows that graze and feed primarily on grass have increasingly become a consumer preference in the dairy and beef industries.
A 2013 Wallace Center of the Winrock Foundation study determined that demand for grass-fed beef had grown by 25 percent over the previous decade. And according to a Wall Street Journal article, Organic Valley whole milk from grass-fed cows became the company's top-selling Whole Foods item in 2014.
When cows aren't grass-fed, they traditionally feast on corn and other grains — feed that isn't considered natural to their diet.
The grasses for grazing feature a variety of plants, each providing different types of nutrients. Klaphake's pastures, for example, feature nine different grass plants.
In the winter, cows snack on hay made from the grasses.
"Cattle are smart enough to pick the ones they need," explains Mitch Maier, who raises grass-fed beef for Thousand Hills Cattle Co. at his Clearwater, Minn. farm. "Whether it's minerals, sugar or protein, they will naturally seek out what their bodies need as long as you give them a good variety.
"Certain times of the year they will go after the leaves of trees because the roots are so far down they pull up minerals that you normally don't get in grasses and short-growing plants."
Maier, who also uses the standard "Come boss" cattle call and recently gave a tour of his farm to area Coborn's store managers, said the goal with grazing is for cows to eat one-third of the grass, trample one-third of the grass, and leave the rest intact.
The cows also naturally fertilize each portion before moving to a new spot.
"It's a holistic process," Maier said. "There's an added benefit to your health as a consumer, there's a benefit for the animal's health and it benefits the soil you manage. It keeps on giving."
And grass-fed beef and dairy continues to grow as a consumer preference.
"It seems the younger generation is going to organic," Klaphake said. "They are raising their kids on organic and I think they will stay with it. People are doing more research and learning it is a more balanced food."