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Irish Dairy Farming

What do you mean when you say your products are “natural”?

Ireland’s location on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean gives it a temperate climate, not too hot and not too cold and with regular rainfall which is the perfect weather for growing grass.

Approximately 2/3 of the land in Ireland is used for farming and agriculture and 80% of this land is used to grow grass. This grass gives the Irish countryside its green colour and is the basis for the description of Ireland as the Emerald Isle. This abundant supply of natural fresh grass is also what makes the Irish dairy industry and Irish dairy products unique.

Irish dairy cows graze on fresh grass in pastures all day long for up to 312 days a year. In fact, Irish cows graze outdoors on grass for longer than almost every country in the world.

The vast majority of an Irish cow’s diet is from rich, natural grass which grows abundantly in Ireland and we endeavor to work in harmony with nature in the care and feeding of our cows.

Irish farmers do not use mechanical irrigation systems like other countries as Ireland is swept by Atlantic rain carrying water which is pure and unpolluted and provides natural irrigation for our lush meadows.

Our cows produce rich and creamy milk and the Irish Dairy Board takes great pride in retaining all the natural purity and goodness of this milk. This milk is the source of all our wonderful butter, cheese and milk powder products. In addition, Kerrygold products do not contain any artificial additives and we only use natural flavors and herbs.

What do you mean when you say your products are from “grass fed” cows?

The vast majority of an Irish cow’s diet is from rich, natural grass which grows abundantly in Ireland. Ireland’s location on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean gives it a temperate climate, not too hot and not too cold and with regular rainfall which is the perfect weather for growing grass.

Approximately 2/3 of the land in Ireland is used for farming and agriculture and 80% of this land is used to grow grass. This grass gives the Irish countryside its green colour and is the basis for the description of Ireland as the Emerald Isle. This abundant supply of natural fresh grass is also what makes the Irish dairy industry and Irish dairy products unique.

Irish dairy cows graze on fresh grass in pastures all day long for up to 312 days a year. In fact, Irish cows graze outdoors on grass for longer than almost every country in the world.

Is a cow’s diet in Ireland totally comprised of grass?

The vast majority of an Irish cow’s diet is from rich, natural grass which grows abundantly in Ireland. Irish dairy cows graze outdoors on grass all day long for up to 312 days a year. In fact, Irish cows graze outdoors on grass for longer than almost every country in the world.

Like so much of what we do, our feeding pattern follows the cycle of nature. During the winter, when grasses stop growing, Irish cows are fed dried grass (known as silage). This grass is grown throughout the year, cut fresh and stored to be used when the winter comes. Cows in Ireland calve in the spring and are therefore outdoors, grazing on green grass when they are producing milk. After calving, cows are provided with supplementary feed to help restore protein and nurture them through this period.

The majority of our cows’ supplementary feed is locally grown crops such as wheat and barley. As a small island, Ireland does not have enough land available to grow certain crops locally; therefore a number of crops are imported. These imported crops comply fully with strict European and Irish legislative requirements on labeling and traceability.

Because our cows live outdoors for most of the year, they are free to roam and graze which is a cow’s natural behavior. Although this sounds like common sense, in many milk producing countries cows will spend much of their lives indoors. As a result they do not get to eat the same amount of fresh grass.

Our cows produce approximately 5,000 liters per annum. In many countries, cows are intensively farmed and milked. An Irish cow’s milk ‘production’ is deliberately much lower than in other countries as the Irish dairy system is less intensive than countries wherein dairy cows are kept indoors, fed grain exclusively and are intensively milked. While this may be less profitable, we believe that it leads to happier cows and better products. We find that what keeps our cows happy also leads to happy customers.

Is feeding cows from grass more sustainable?

Yes it is. In fact, from a greenhouse gas perspective, European Commission studies have proven that Ireland’s dairy industry has the lowest carbon footprint out of any other European country. This is something we are very proud of.

Nutrient rich grass is a natural ‘resource’ in Ireland which is freely available and abundant. The more fresh grass that our cows eat, the less additional food supplements they will require. This means less energy is consumed in the production and transport of food supplements. Many other dairy producing countries rely heavily on supplements and feeds; this means more transportation and more emissions.

In addition, Irish farmers do not use mechanical irrigation systems like other countries as Ireland is swept by Atlantic rain carrying water which is pure and unpolluted and provides natural irrigation for our lush meadows. Again this means less carbon emissions.

Just because we are already the best in the world, does not mean that we don’t believe in being better. The Irish Dairy Board is committed to reducing our environmental impact and we are actively working with our suppliers on sustainable farming practices to lower on-farm greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 16% per unit of milk production by 2018.

While carbon emissions are an important part of the sustainability agenda, our environmental focus is much broader. We only use natural ingredients in our products rather than artificial flavors and sweeteners and this is a more sustainable practice.

At farm level, we support Irish farmers to encourage wildlife which naturally controls pests and our farmers place sustainability at the heart of our farming traditions. Most Irish farms are family owned and have been handed down through generation after generation. Irish farmers take great pride in their farms, in their animals and in their role in protecting nature. They are renowned for the care they show for their animals (a practice known as animal husbandry). Irish herd and farm sizes are among the smallest in the world with an average farm size of about 60 cows per farm. This small herd size makes for a very personal and trusted relationship between the farmer and his cows and allows lots of room for our cows to move around.

In many countries, cows are intensively farmed and milked. In Ireland, we like to treat our cows differently. Our cows produce approximately 5,000 liters per annum. An Irish cow’s milk ‘production’ is deliberately much lower than in other countries as the Irish dairy system is less intensive than countries wherein dairy cows are kept indoors, fed grain exclusively and are intensively milked.

In Ireland, our farming practices strike a happy balance between ensuring our cows live happy contented lives while enabling our farmers to enjoy a lifestyle and livelihood which is in harmony with the land and nature. While this may be less profitable in the short term, we believe that it leads to happier cows, better products and consumer trust. If you have been committed to the land for generations, short term becomes less important.

Is it better for the cows when they are fed grass?

In our view, yes. The most natural diet for cows is a grass based one which is easier to digest. Irish dairy cows graze on fresh grass in pastures all day long for up to 312 days a year. In fact, Irish cows graze outdoors on grass for longer than almost every country in the world.

Because our cows live outdoors for most of the year, they are free to roam, to lie down and to graze which is a cow’s natural behavior. We believe that allowing lots of room for our cows to move helps them to live more contented lives. There are less than 2 cows per hectare in Ireland. Although this sounds like common sense, in many milk producing countries cows will spend much of their lives indoors. As a result they do not get to eat the same amount of fresh grass.

Do products made from grass fed cows look or taste different?

Yes. We are proud to say that Kerrygold products which are from grass fed cows taste and look differently to those dairy products which are produced using milk from cows which are predominately fed grain.

Approximately 2/3 of the land in Ireland is used for agriculture purposes and 80% of this land is used to grow grass. Irish dairy cows graze outdoors on grass all day long for up to 312 days a year. In fact, Irish cows graze outdoors on grass for longer than almost every country in the world.

Milk from cows that are grass-fed is rich in natural beta-carotene. This gives Kerrygold butters & cheeses their traditional rich golden colour. This is the colour that Irish butter has been for centuries, because this is the colour that butter should be. Milk from grass-fed cows also contains higher quantities of unsaturated fatty acids (Omega 3 & 6) than milk from cows fed indoors. This is the reason Kerrygold butter is very spreadable & has a unique creamy taste. Butter which is produced from milk and cows which are fed a grain based diet is white in colour rather than the golden colour you will experience with Kerrygold butter.

Are Kerrygold products free of hormones?

BST and growth hormones are totally banned in Ireland. Therefore all Kerrygold products are guaranteed free of BST and growth hormones.

Are Kerrygold products free of antibiotics and pesticides?

All Kerrygold products are regularly tested to ensure compliance with national testing plans which confirm the safety of our foods and to ensure there are no antibiotics or pesticides present in Kerrygold products.

The Irish laws strike a healthy balance to ensure that the product is pure but that animals that require medical assistance are helped. Vaccinations & antibiotics are given to Irish cows if required in order to protect the health of the animal. If a cow does become ill and needs antibiotics, the milk that they produce is segregated from the rest of the herd for a specific withdrawal period until they recover & the antibiotic has left their system. Once this withdrawal period is complete, they return to producing milk as normal. This ensures the purity of the product and the welfare of our animals.

As a further check, when the milk is being collected from the farm, each load is tested to ensure that it complies with strict safety controls. When milk trucks then arrive at the local dairy co-op, each milk delivery is tested again. Any intended delivery which does not conform to hygiene and safety standards is rejected.

The milk we use is our most important ingredient. We do everything we can to ensure its purity because that purity makes Kerrygold unique.

Are Kerrygold products organic?

We believe in the organic ethos and our approach to producing dairy products is similar in many respects to those followed by producers who do carry the organic label. Kerrygold products are not organic, and Kerrygold does not seek to apply that label to our products.

Like organic farmers, Irish dairy farmers’ practices promote healthy nutrient rich soil; encourage wildlife which naturally controls pests and our farmers place animal welfare at the heart of our farming traditions. Like organic products, Kerrygold products are also free of artificial flavors and sweeteners and we only use natural ingredients in our products.

Organic farmers believe in working in harmony with nature and using nature’s abundant resources in a sustainable way. At Kerrygold, we share this philosophy. Nutrient rich grass is freely available and abundant in Ireland and in fact, approximately 2/3 of the land in Ireland is used for agriculture purposes and 80% of this land is used to grow grass.

The more grass that our cows eat, the less additional food supplements they will require. This means less energy is consumed in the production and transport of food supplements. In addition, Irish farmers do not use mechanical irrigation systems like other countries as Ireland is swept by Atlantic rain carrying water which is pure and unpolluted and provides natural irrigation for our lush meadows. European Commission studies have proven that Ireland’s dairy industry has the lowest carbon footprint out of any other European country.

How many days a year do Irish dairy cows graze on grass?

Irish dairy cows graze outdoors on grass all day long for up to 312 days a year. In fact, Irish cows graze outdoors on grass for longer than almost every country in the world. The vast majority of an Irish cow’s diet is from rich, natural grass which grows abundantly in Ireland and we endeavor to work in harmony with nature in the care and feeding of our cows.

How many cows does an Irish farmer have on average?

Irish herd and farm sizes are among the smallest in the world with an average herd size of about 60 cows per farm. This small herd size makes for a very personal and trusted relationship between the farmer and his cows and allows lots of room for our cows to move around.

Only a tiny percentage of Irish agricultural land is sold every year as many farms are handed down from one generation to the next. This practice helps to ensure a continuity of traditional land and animal care practices. Indeed it is not uncommon for three generations of farmers to work together on the same farm.

What breed of cow produces the milk and cream for your products?

95% of dairy cows in Ireland are Friesian Cows.

What percent of an Irish cow’s diet is comprised of grass?

Irish cows benefit from the abundance of grass which grows on our farms. The vast majority of an Irish cow’s diet, almost 90%, is from rich, natural grass. This is much higher than in most other countries. It is made possible because of the perfect farming conditions enjoyed on the island of Ireland.

Approximately 2/3 of the land in Ireland is used for agriculture purposes and 80% of this land is used to grow grass. Irish dairy cows graze outdoors on grass all day long for up to 312 days a year. In fact, Irish cows graze outdoors on grass for longer than almost every country in the world.

Even during the winter, when grasses stop growing, Irish cows are fed dried grass (known as silage). This is grass which was cut fresh during the summer months and stored for winter use.

How much milk does an Irish dairy cow produce?

In many countries, cows are intensively farmed and milked. In Ireland, we like to treat our cows differently. Our cows produce approximately 5,000 liters per annum. An Irish cow’s milk ‘production’ is deliberately much lower than in other countries as the Irish dairy system is less intensive than countries where dairy cows are kept indoors, fed grain exclusively and are intensively milked.

Because our cows live outdoors for most of the year, they are free to roam and graze which is a cow’s natural behavior. Although this sounds like common sense, in many milk producing countries cows will spend much of their lives indoors and as a result do not get to eat the same amount of fresh grass.

While the Irish approach may be less profitable, we believe that it leads to happier cows, better products and the trust of the consumer.

How do your farmers look after their cows? How happy are the cows?

Irish farmers are renowned for the care they show their animals (a practice known as animal husbandry). Irish herd and farm sizes are among the smallest in the world with an average farm size of about 60 cows per farm. This small herd size makes for a very personal and trusted relationship between the farmer and his cows and allows lots of room for our cows to move around. Cows are social animals (and in fact there have been studies done in Ireland to show the ‘sociability of cows!’) and being surrounded by their immediate family and ‘neighbors’ helps to keep our Irish cows happy and content.

In many countries, cows are intensively farmed and milked. In Ireland, we like to treat our cows differently. Our cows produce approximately 5,000 liters per annum. An Irish cow’s milk ‘production’ is deliberately much lower than in other countries as the Irish dairy system is less intensive than countries where dairy cows are kept indoors, fed grain exclusively and are intensively milked. While the Irish approach may be less profitable, we believe that it leads to happier cows, better products and satisfied customers.

Diet and Nutrition

Are Kerrygold products suitable for vegetarians?

Yes. All Kerrygold products are made using microbial rennet, making them suitable for vegetarians.

What is the definition of microbial rennet?

Rennet is a combination of enzymes used to turn milk into cheese. Traditionally, rennet came from the stomachs of calves. To make cheese suitable for vegetarians, cheese makers have replicated the fermentation process to create a vegetarian – or microbial — rennet.

Is microbial rennet made from soy?

No. There is no soy used in making microbial rennet.

What is the lactose content in Kerrygold cheese?

Kerrygold cheese has less than 0.2 grams of lactose per 100 grams of cheese.

What are the white spots in Dubliner Cheese?

The white spots are calcium lactate crystals. These occur naturally in Kerrygold’s Dubliner Cheese when it reaches the right stage of maturation.

Can Kerrygold butter be frozen?

Kerrygold butter stays fresh up to one year in the freezer. In fact, to preserve the quality, we put our butter in a commercial deep freeze before transporting it to the US.

Can Kerrygold cheeses be frozen?

We do not recommend freezing cheeses.

Are Kerrygold dairy products certified Kosher?

Kerrygold products are not certified Kosher.

Are Kerrygold cheeses gluten free? I have a gluten intolerance. Will I be able to eat Kerrygold products given that the cows have been fed grain?

Kerrygold products are made from the freshest milk from grass fed cows and do not contain any gluten material, nor trace elements of gluten. The ingredients in our cheeses are pasteurized cow’s milk, cheese cultures, salt and enzymes. Wheat is not used in the making of these products. Our cheeses are therefore suitable for consumption by celiacs and gluten sensitive consumers. The one and only exception to this is Kerrygold Dubliner with Irish Stout. As this is an authentic product, in which we use real Irish stout, it is not suitable for celiacs.

How much alcohol is in Kerrygold Dubliner with Irish Stout and Kerrygold Aged Cheddar with Irish Whiskey?

The alcohol content in Kerrygold Dubliner with Irish Stout is 0.17 percent and 1.2 percent in Kerrygold Aged Cheddar with Irish Whiskey.

Are Kerrygold cheeses free from the protein casein?

Casein is the main protein in all cow’s milk; 20-25 percent of cheese is casein.

What kind of milk is used to make Kerrygold products?

Kerrygold products use only pasteurized milk from grass-fed cows.

Has Kerrygold ever considered making an unpasteurized cheese?

Product safety and quality are of paramount importance to Kerrygold. All Kerrygold cheeses and butters are made from pasteurized milk.

To what temperature is the milk pasteurized?

The pasteurization process begins once the cream is separated from the milk. The milk is warmed to just above 80°C for 15 seconds.

I left my cheese out of the refrigerator for several hours. Is it still safe to eat?

Kerrygold does not recommend eating cheese that is unrefrigerated for four hours or more. For the best flavor, however, let cheese sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before eating.

What is the butter-fat content in Kerrygold butters?
  • Salted – 80%
  • Unsalted – 82%
  • Naturally Softer – 80%
  • Reduced Fat – 60%

Do Kerrygold butters and cheeses contain Omega 3, Omega 6 or CLA?

Milk from grass-fed cows contains higher quantities of unsaturated fatty acids (Omega 3 & 6) than milk from cows fed indoors. This is why Kerrygold butter is very spreadable and has a unique creamy taste. Butter produced from grain-fed cows’ milk is white in colour rather than the golden colour you will experience with Kerrygold butter.

Supplementary Feed and GM on Irish Dairy Farms

What is the Irish Dairy Board’s policy on GM?

The Irish Dairy Board is proud of its reputation as the supplier of quality dairy products under the Kerrygold brand. Consumers have trusted and enjoyed the quality of Kerrygold products for over 50 years. We value that trust and work hard to ensure that we produce the best products from the freshest ingredients. We do not use GM ingredients in any of our products. Because Ireland values the reputation of our food, Irish farms and Irish food producers have to comply with strict legislative requirements. This commitment to the highest standards ensures that raw materials, manufacturing, storage and distribution for our dairy products and brands are of the highest quality.

Do Kerrygold products contain GM ingredients?

All Kerrygold butter, cheese and milk products are free of genetically modified ingredients.

Are your cows fed grain? If yes, why?

The vast majority of an Irish cow’s diet is from rich, natural grass which grows abundantly in Ireland. We endeavor to work in harmony with nature in the care and feeding of our cows.

Ireland’s location on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean gives it a temperate climate, not too hot and not too cold and with regular rainfall which is the perfect weather for growing grass.

Approximately 2/3 of the land in Ireland is used for farming and agriculture and 80% of this land is used to grow grass. This grass gives the Irish countryside its green colour and is the basis for the description of Ireland as the Emerald Isle. This abundant supply of fresh grass is also what makes the Irish dairy industry and Irish dairy products unique.

Irish dairy cows graze on fresh grass in pastures all day long for up to 312 days a year. In fact, Irish cows graze outdoors on grass for longer than almost every country in the world.

During the winter, when grasses stop growing, Irish cows are fed dried grass (known as silage). This grass is grown throughout the year, cut fresh and stored to be used when the winter comes. Cows in Ireland calve (give birth) in the spring and are therefore outdoors, grazing on green grass when they are producing milk. After calving, cows are provided with supplementary feed to help restore protein and nurture them through this period.

The majority of our cows’ supplementary feed is locally grown crops such as wheat and barley. As a small island, Ireland does not have enough land available to grow certain crops locally; therefore a number of crops are imported.

These imported crops comply fully with strict European and Irish legislative requirements on labeling and traceability.

Your ‘final’ dairy products may be GM free but can you confirm that the grain/supplements fed to your cows are GM free?

The Irish Dairy Board and Kerrygold work closely with farmers to ensure the highest standards for our ingredients. GM is a relatively new issue in an Irish context. We are taking an active role in exploring the potential and challenges around using GM free grain in the Irish dairy industry. Supplementary feeds are important for the health of the animals. Some of these will contain soy and corn. At present, the Irish Dairy Board cannot guarantee that grain supplements used by farmers will all be GM free.

We can confirm that Kerrygold butter and cheese do not contain GM ingredients.

What percent of an Irish cow’s diet is comprised of grass and grain/supplements?

Irish cows benefit from the abundance of grass which grows on our farms. The vast majority of an Irish cow’s diet, almost 90%, is from rich, natural grass. This is much higher than in most other countries. It is made possible because of the perfect farming conditions enjoyed on the island of Ireland. The balance, normally about 10%, of the cow’s diet is made up of grain and supplements.

What is this supplementary feed composed of?

The vast majority of an Irish cow’s diet, almost 90%, is from rich, natural grass. Supplementary feed makes up about 10% of a cow’s diet. The supplementary feed is used to give the cows a healthy and balanced blend of nutrients, providing them with protein, energy and fiber. The majority of the cow’s supplementary feed is from locally grown Irish crops, such as wheat and barley. The balance of this feed can be composed of distillers grain (rapeseed, soy and citrus pulp – a blend of dried peel, pulp and seeds of oranges, grapefruit and other citrus fruit).

What percent of this supplementary feed is from GM sources?

Irish cows benefit from the abundance of grass which grows on our farms. The vast majority of an Irish cow’s diet, almost 90%, is from rich, natural grass. This is much higher than in most other countries. It is made possible because of the perfect farming conditions enjoyed on the island of Ireland. The balance, normally about 10%, of the cow’s diet is made up of grain and supplements.

Our ongoing discussions with the grain and dairy industry have established that of this approximately 10% grain/supplements, approximately 20 to 25% may be from GM sources. This means that approximately 3% of a cow’s total typical annual diet may be from GM sources.

GM is a relatively new issue in an Irish context. We are taking an active role in exploring the potential and challenges around using GM free grain in the Irish dairy industry. Supplementary feeds are important for the health of the animals. They are used to give the cows a healthy and balanced blend of nutrients, providing them with protein, energy and fiber.

We can confirm that Kerrygold butter and cheese do not contain GM ingredients.

Which of the grain/supplementary feed ingredients are from GM sources?

Grain which is sourced locally in Ireland or from the EU is GM free. When combined with the grass in their diet, this means that approximately 97% of an Irish cow’s diet is GM free.

Ireland is a small island and while local crops such as barley and wheat make up a large part of the supplements to the cow’s diet, there is not enough land to grow sufficient barley and wheat crops to supply the Irish dairy producers. Because of this some ingredients used in the supplements are imported.

Where the potential for GM arises is when soy and distillers grain are used as part of the supplement. It is not possible to source all supplementary feed/grain ingredients from the EU due to availability issues. However, these ingredients do comply with EU and Irish legislative requirements on labeling and traceability.

We can confirm that Kerrygold butter and cheese do not contain GM ingredients.