Much of the cheese and sour cream we serve in Chipotle restaurants is made with milk from Pasture-Raised cows.
The term “Pasture-Raised” is thrown around a lot in the dairy business, and because this term is unregulated by the USDA, there is no official definition agreed upon by the dairy industry. This means that milk and dairy products claiming to be “Pasture-Raised” can be produced according to a wide range of practices, including some that are a far cry from the classic farm imagery that has been burned into our collective mind’s eye.
To avoid any confusion when it comes to the cheese and sour cream we serve in our restaurants, we wanted to share Chipotle’s key standards for Pasture-Raised dairy.
1. Access to Pasture
All cows in the milking herd must have daily unfettered access to pasture, which is defined as ground covered with at least 50% intact rooted grass system.
Exceptions to the pasture access rule are inclement weather or other natural disasters (e.g. blizzard, flood, fire), as well as cows that are lame or soon to calve.
2. Animal Welfare
Cows must have access to shelter, housing or other structures that provide adequate protection from the elements during severe weather.
Loose housing must have adequate bedded space for all cows to lie down in a recumbent position at the same time.
Tie stalls and/or head stanchions may be used only while actively milking or attending to cows (such as veterinary procedures).
Animals that become sick must be treated, and an attempt must be made to bring the animal back to health.
Cows in the milking herd may not be given antibiotics. If an animal becomes sick and must be treated with antibiotics, it must be removed from the milking herd.
Hormones and growth promotants such as rBST are prohibited.
Zero tolerance toward cruelty to animals.
Supplemental feed given to cows in the milking herd cannot contain animal byproducts. In other words, all feed must be vegetarian.
Auditing & Verification
Chipotle’s animal welfare team or a certified third-party representative visit each dairy farm at least once a year to verify all of the above.
Tom and Beth Kearns and their family run a small dairy in Crawford County, Wisconsin. Some of the milk from their pasture-raised cows is used to make Chipotle's cheese.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why does Chipotle buy most of its cheese and sour cream from Pasture-Raised dairies?
There are more than 50,000 dairy farms in the U.S., and each of them are unique. We respect the right of every farmer (dairy or otherwise) to follow practices that make sense for their business, even if they do not make sense for ours. We like pasture-based dairies because their practices tend to allow animals to express more of their natural tendencies—plus, we like the mildly earthy flavor that a diet heavy on grass lends to the milk.
2. What happens when it’s cold outside?
Many of our cheese and sour cream suppliers are based in places like Ohio and Wisconsin that can get cold in the winter. All dairies in our program must provide adequate housing for cows and allow them to seek shelter from the elements—whether it’s hot, cold, rainy, or windy.
3. How big are the dairies that produce this milk?
The dairies that provide milk for Chipotle’s cheesemakers and sour cream producers range in size from very small (about 20 cows) to medium-sized (more than 1,000 cows). To put this in context, the vast majority of milk in the country comes from larger dairies that milk tens of thousands of cows a day.
That said, we believe small farms come in many sizes. A large farm or ranch following the most responsible practices is better than a small farm using questionable ones.
4. Is pasture-raised the same as grass-fed?
No. Like “pasture-raised,” “grass-fed” can mean different things in different contexts. As it applies to our beef, we consider grass-fed to mean that cattle are raised exclusively on grass, with no grain to supplement their diet. The pasture-raised cows producing milk for Chipotle’s cheese and sour cream suppliers are fed some grain to supplement the grass in their diet.