The vast majority of cows in the world are fed indoors and see little of lush pastures, unless they’re in Ireland. That’s because Ireland’s dairy and meat herds are almost entirely pasture-based, an advantage articulated in the “Origin Green” campaign marketed by Bord Bia, Ireland.

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.

Now, scientists from University College Cork (UCC), Ireland, provide scientific evidence showing the benefits of milk and butter from pasture-fed cattle, including superior nutritional properties, appearance, flavor and color.

The study, “Profiling Milk From Grass,” is led by UCC, Teagasc, a semi-state authority in the Republic of Ireland responsible for research and development, training and advisory services in the agri-food sector and Ireland-based Microbiome Institute, and is part of a large collaborative program across Teagasc Moorepark Research Centre and the APC Microbiome Institute and funded by Teagasc, Science Foundation Ireland and the Dairy Research Trust.

“Results so far are very exciting, and indicate that milk and dairy produce from grass and clover-fed cows has significantly higher concentrations of fat, protein and casein,” says Tom O’Callaghan, a student at Teagasc and one of the authors of the study. “In particular, milk from pasture-fed cows (grass or clover) has significantly higher concentrations of healthy fatty acids. These 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 thrombogenecity scores and containing significantly higher concentrations of CLA (c9t11), a healthy fatty acid, and β-carotene, which gives the butter a lovely golden color.”

“The significance of these results is that they provide scientific substantiation for what we long thought to be the case–that dairy produce from pasture-fed animals is superior, from a compositional and nutritional perspective, to those derived from their indoor counterparts,” says UCC professor Paul Ross.

“The next step is to demonstrate that this has a long-term positive influence on human health through clinical studies,” according to professor Catherine Stanton from Teagasc, one of the senior authors on the study.

“The research carried out at the animal and grassland research center in Moorepark over an entire lactation confirm the superior quality of dairy products produced from pasture-based system at the Teagasc Food Research Centre in Moorepark,” adds professor Pat Dillon, head of the Teagasc Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation program.