Food Stories

Documentary shorts — unscripted — featuring farmers, artisans, and others

by

Organic Dairyman: Director’s Cut (video)

This is the director’s cut version, a story about Jon Bansen, a 3rd generation Oregon dairy farmer who switched from conventional to organic dairy farming in 2000. The Double J Jersey 450 acre farm is located about 20 miles west of Salem.

Rosie (and the girls), 12 years old and still milkin!

Originally, this story was divided into two parts, his roots in agriculture as a 3rd generation dairy farmer (Organic Dairyman: A Family Tradition), and his life after converting to an organic practice (Organic Dairyman: The Farmer). More than just the combining of both parts into one, it also contains a new open, and the pacing throughout is more consistent with the slow pace of his natural environment.

It’s impossible to have a conversation with Jon Bansen without asking about his favorite cow Rosie. She’s now 12 years old (she was 9 in the film), and for an active producing cow, well beyond the average productive years for a dairy cow. And yet, Bansen proudly shares, Rosie is producing 120% of capacity compared with the rest of his 165 jersey cow herd. By contrast, Bansen explains, the average conventional dairy cow will last about 4 years, and during their first two years, will not produce any milk at all. To Bansen, organic cows are healthier, and remain on average, productive longer, than their conventional counterparts because of the differences in how they are treated, and their access to open pasture for grazing.

Organic milk offers additional advantages to consumers in the form of higher nutrient levels, such as Omega 3 fatty acids; better taste (I’ll personally vouch for this one); and is free of antibiotics, and growth promoting hormones. In conventional dairy operations, cows often do not have access to pasture for grazing, instead they spend much of their lives in confinement lots, and are fed conventional feed that according to Bansen is both unnatural, and stressful to their stomachs, and to their overall lives.

Just recently, the USDA enacted tougher requirements for organic livestock practices, to ensure that animals receive a considerable amount of their food from pasture grass, and lead more natural lives, without undue confinement. Organic agriculture, and by extension, organic livestock management embraces a holistic view of farming that seeks to work with nature, not against it. The new access to pasture requirements will likely effect more organic dairy operations in the West and Southwest where larger herd sizes (300+ cows) will no longer be economically viable due to the amount of grazing land needed . The majority of organic dairy farms are located in the Northeast and Midwest, and contain much smaller herd sizes.

From the USDA site, these are the main components of the new rule:

  1. Animals must graze pasture during the grazing season, which must be at least 120 days per year;
  2. Animals must obtain a minimum of 30 percent dry matter intake from grazing pasture during the grazing season;
  3. Producers must have a pasture management plan and manage pasture as a crop to meet the feed requirements for the grazing animals and to protect soil and water quality; and,
  4. Livestock are exempt from the 30 percent dry matter intake requirements during the finish feeding period, not to exceed 120 days. Livestock must have access to pasture during the finishing phase.

For organic dairyman, Jon Bansen, the consistent health of his Jersey cows, their added years of milk production, a sustainable approach to the ecosystem of his farm operations, and his continued economic well being as a member of the Organic Valley farmer owned co-op, despite the recent economic meltdown, and a nationwide decline in organic milk production, he appears to be optimistic for the future of organic dairy farming.

Rosie too, says, moo!

Check Out These Related Posts & Videos:

Leave a Comment


9 Comments

  1. Megan Jones says:

    I love reading stories like this. It is so sad when I see images and video of livestock stuck inside nearly their whole lives eating unnatural food. I wish organic ranching was the norm so I could know that all the products I buy come from a producer like this!

  2. The more ubiquitous we can make organic products, particularly pantry staples like eggs and milk, the more people will pick it out over conventional products. It’s become very accessible to people in upper and middle class neighborhoods, but it’s infiltrating inner cities which will cement a change in our society.

  3. Levy says:

    agriculture is a biological process not an industrial process….yes please!!!

  4. Juan Venegas says:

    Good Job Jon!!! I worked there for over 5 years:)

  5. My hat will always be off to individuals like Jon Bansen-owner of The Double J Jersey Farm in Oregon. Few people will ever appreciate the work involved with running a dairy farm! To transition it to organic-sustainable is impressive in and of itself! WAY TO GO JON!!!!! You are not living in the present exclusively. You have legacy on your mind…That is “what can I do today to ensure the health of future generations?” For me to say,” your passion and sentiment is admirable”-would be a dramatic understatement. Thankyou and greatest thanks! Curt’s Culinary Camp

  6. PhilipCassey says:

    Great video. i really loved it! Thank you!

  7. Glad you liked it – this one is a top favorite. And, thank you for saying something, Amy! Let me add you made my weekend even sweeter. =)

  8. Amy says:

    I loved the video! I also wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your blog and all the stories you bring to all of us. I’ve been following along for some time now, and wanted you to know how much I appreciate all you do!