Working with Farmers, Dairy Processors and Chefs to Build a Market for Grass-Fed Milk

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $148,133.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Grant Recipient: Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Laura Paine
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: grass (misc. perennial), hay
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - rotational, winter forage
  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, mentoring, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: cooperatives, market study, new enterprise development, value added
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, soil chemistry
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, new business opportunities, partnerships, social capital

    Proposal abstract:

    The North Central region has long had a strong dairy industry and is still home to seven of the top 10 states in numbers of dairy farmers. In today’s global marketplace, our dairy industry has struggled to compete with other regions that have advantages in high volume milk production. A better strategy may be to capitalize on our strengths. Can the unique features of the region’s pasture-based family farming tradition and our existing regional dairy processing expertise and infrastructure contribute to establishment of a new artisan dairy tradition focused on high-value, specialty products? One key to this approach is to identify the unique properties of the milk from pasture fed cows. Our preliminary research showed that grassfed milk produces cheddar cheese that was preferred over cheese from confinement fed cows in consumer taste testing. This project seeks to build on results of this initial research by taking a broad, value-chain approach. We will bring together grass-based dairy farmers, processors, chefs, and researchers to explore the use and marketing of grassfed milk in a variety of dairy products. Guided by this team, we will conduct a comprehensive investigation of the chemical and physical properties of this unique milk when made into cheese, butter, or other products.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Expected short-term outcomes include, 1) a definitive understanding of the unique physical, chemical, and flavor qualities of grassfed milk, and 2) an ability to manage seasonal changes in milk flavor and physical properties to improve processing quality. The research we conduct comparing the performance of milk from grass-based farms with conventional milk in several processed products will provide a foundation for understanding the chemical differences in the two milks and how these differences influence flavor, texture, and culinary qualities. Once we have this knowledge, we will be able to determine the best fit for this milk in various products and develop processing practices and marketing strategies to address the seasonal variability in grassfed milk related to pasture versus stored feed.

    Expected intermediate-term outcomes include, 1) an increased awareness among processors of the opportunities and appropriate uses for grassfed milk, and 2) a strategy for establishment of a premium market for grassfed milk products. The results of the research should indicate the types of products best suited for grassfed milk. During and after the research phase of the project, we plan to work with participating processors and chefs to develop effective outreach strategies to inform these communities about the work. In the meantime, surveys of consumers, processors, and retailers participating in our outreach activities will give us a means to evaluate the potential market for grassfed milk and help us investigate the logistics of pooling, transporting, and segregating this specialty milk. With market and logistical data, a realistic strategy for establishing a premium market for grassfed milk can be developed.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.