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Irish researchers say green pastures mean better dairy products

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By Jim Cornall+


Ireland's dairy industry is primarily pasture-based, which scientists say leads to better dairy products.
Ireland's dairy industry is primarily pasture-based, which scientists say leads to better dairy products.

Irish scientists say there is evidence that pasture-fed cows do produce better products.

The majority of cows around the world are fed indoors, unlike in Ireland.  Ireland’s dairy industry is almost entirely pasture-based – something that is promoted globally through the Origin Green campaign marketed by Bord Bia, the Irish food board. 

As a result, consumers generally perceive that milk and dairy products produced from cows maintained on outdoors grazing pastures are “healthier” than from cows fed typical indoor rations and concentrated feeding systems.

Benefits of pasture feeding

Scientists in the Irish city of Cork say they have the scientific evidence to show the benefits of milk and butter from pasture-fed cattle in terms of superior nutritional properties, appearance, flavor and color. 

The research was led by Teagasc and University College Cork (UCC) researchers, including APC Microbiome Institute’s Prof Catherine Stanton at Teagasc Moorepark Food Research Centre, and Prof Paul Ross in UCC.

The studies have been published in two papers in the Journal of Dairy Science this month; the paper on butter has been selected as the Editor’s Choice. This study is part of a large collaborative program across Teagasc Moorepark Research Centre and the APC Microbiome Institute, entitled “Profiling Milk From Grass,” which is funded by Teagasc, Science Foundation Ireland and the Dairy Research Trust.

Higher concentration of healthy fatty acids

Tom O’Callaghan, PhD student at Teagasc and first author on both papers, said the results show that milk and dairy produce from grass and clover-fed cows has significantly higher concentrations of fat, protein and casein. 

“In particular, milk from pasture-fed cows (grass or clover) has significantly higher concentrations of healthy fatty acids,” O’Callaghan said. 

He added the differences are reflected in butter produced from pasture-fed cows being superior in appearance, flavor and color as confirmed by sensory panel data. 

“Pasture-derived butter is also nutritionally superior for heart health with lower atherogenecity scores and containing significantly higher concentrations of CLA (c9t11), a healthy fatty acid and β-carotene, which gives the butter a lovely golden color,” he said.

Next steps

Prof Stanton told DairyReporter the butter made from milk from cows on pasture was much more yellow in color and more spreadable than that made from milk from indoor feeding systems.

Stanton also said any differences in product characteristics would likely be very small, depending on where milk originated from, as long as the cows were out on grass.

She added the next step is to show this has a long-term positive influence on human health through clinical studies.

Professor Pat Dillon, Head of the Teagasc Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation program said the research carried out at the animal and grassland research centre in Moorepark confirms the superior quality of dairy products produced from the pasture-based system.

Dillon told DairyReporter there are also financial benefits with respect to production costs, in that the indoor feeding system would be between 15 and 20 cents per liter more expensive than the pasture based system.


Effect of pasture versus indoor feeding systems on raw milk composition and quality over an entire lactation Tom F. O’Callaghan, Deirdre Hennessy, Stephen McAuliffe, Kieran N. Kilkawley, Michael O’Donovan, Pat Dillon, R. Paul Ross and Catherine Stanton

J. Dairy Science Vol. 99, Issue 12, p9424–9440; doi:

Quality characteristics, chemical composition, and sensory properties of butter from cows on pasture versus indoor feeding systems  Tom F. O’Callaghan, Hope Faulkner, Stephen McAuliffe, Maurice G. O’Sullivan, Deirdre Hennessy, Pat Dillon, Kieran N. Kilcawley, Catherine Stanton and  R. Paul Ross

J. Dairy Science Vol. 99, Issue 12, p9441–9460; doi:

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