With livestock farming becoming more and more intensive, is it time to rethink how we run dairy farms?
FOR organic dairy farmer, David Finlay, that was the question that refused to go away.
Nearly a decade after starting their journey to find a ‘new’ approach to dairying, David and Wilma Finlay today launch The Ethical Dairy: their answer to concerns about the dairy farming industry.
Their solution? Cow with Calf dairy farming – keeping the calves with their mums to suckle, and taking less milk as a result.
David Finlay explained: “By branding ourselves The Ethical Dairy, we are not demonising farmers nor claiming to be perfect. What we’re trying to convey is that in everything we do we aim to meet the highest ethical standards.
“Our goal was to farm in a way that is resilient, ecologically-sound and less stressful for the animals and the people working with them. So we’re leaving the calves with their mothers to suckle. It means we take less milk from each cow but we’re seeing real benefits from this approach – longer living, healthier cows, less antibiotic use, faster-growing calves and less purchased feed.”
Wilma added: “In traditional dairy, farms calves are removed from their mothers within a few hours of their birth. Having married into farming rather than grown up with it, the stress this places on the cow was always very obvious to me and I was never comfortable with it. So we wanted to find a way to keep calves with the cows and still have a financially viable farm. We don’t want to have to choose between doing what’s right and staying in business.”
The surge in interest in veganism, with campaigns like ‘Veganuary’ becoming headline news, may be recent, but planning for the Finlay’s ‘revolution in dairy farming’ began a long time ago. Customers of their award-winning business, Cream o’ Galloway, a luxury ice cream brand and family visitor centre, have had ringside seats with regular farm tours and information events explaining their change in approach.
Transitioning a family farm to this new model has been a long and expensive journey. It’s involved building a brand new dairy that can comfortably house the growing calves alongside their mums. When an initial trial run in 2012 failed, due to management and financial pressures, there was no shortage of helpful comments from their dairy farming friends, neighbours and relatives!
Dumfries & Galloway, where the Finlay’s farm, is understood to be home to 45 per cent of Scotland’s dairy industry, so introducing a radically-different dairy model in the heart of one of the UK’s biggest dairy regions has not been without challenge.
David added: “Many people in the farming industry think we’re completely crazy. Financially, it’s been extremely challenging, but the cows and calves just love it. We’ve given ourselves three years to break-even and, 18 months in, we are already seeing some daylight. It’s been a steep learning curve and we’ve had to learn a lot of things as we go along, but the benefits are clear.
“Our reliance on inputs, such as cereals and chemicals, has reduced substantially and we’ve increased the net amount of food in our global food system by around 80 per cent.”
While the Finlay’s are believed to be the largest farm in the UK to adopt this approach (and the only one in Scotland), they are by no means on their own. Last month, a new website www.cowcalfdairies.co.uk was launched which lists another seven farms who have adopted the same approach.
It’s a supportive network of pioneering farms which, between them, produce a diverse mix of Cow with Calf dairy products.
Artisan cheese is the product the Finlay’s have chosen to focus on and their new The Ethical Dairy cheese brand is being launched this month through independent retailers, specialist cheese outlets and direct through their own website.
The opportunity to help establish a new range of artisan cheeses captured the interest of award-winning cheesemaker, Stephen Palmer, who joined the business last month from the Isle of Mull.
Stephen specialises in unpasteurised and blue cheese and cheesemaking is in his genes, with Stephen’s uncle, Ernie Wagstaff, one of only a handful of cheesemakers ever entrusted to produce Colston Bassett’s famed Shropshire Blue.
Stephen said: “It is very exciting to be tasked with the job of creating new cheeses from the exceptional milk produced here. David and Wilma are true pioneers in the dairy industry and I’m looking forward to working with them to create world class cheeses that are as delicious as they are ethically sound.”
For David Finlay the launch of The Ethical Dairy is only the start of the journey, not the end. His goal is to ‘revolutionise the dairy industry’ by persuading other farmers of the benefits of this new system.
He said: “We’ve given ourselves three years to get things to the point where another farmer could visit us and say ‘I could do that’. We also need to get independent professional organisations to study the model and give it their seal of approval and we need to finance the project – we are tenant farmers and banks get very nervous about risky experiments!
“If all goes to plan we hope to demonstrate that food from the dairy industry can be produced with compassion for our animals, for our people and for our environment. We also hope to show that far from being expensive, food produced this way can actually cost us less. This is just the beginning.”
More information about The Ethical Dairy and its products can be found at www.theethicaldairy.co.uk on Twitter on @theethicaldairy and on Facebook @EthicalDairy
A selection of photos relating to The Ethical Dairy and our Cow with Calf dairy farming method can be found at: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/m97cbp7x85sowc9/AACYsUmWy7OqLvTncXJ2GAYRa?dl=0
Photographs from today’s launch event should appear in this Dropbox folder by mid-afternoon.
The Ethical Dairy would be delighted to work with members of the media. Some key dates that might be of interest for visiting or filming:
· Now till mid April – calving is currently taking place
· Late April or Early May – the cows and calves will go out to pasture
· Weekdays during school holidays – daily farm tours take place including information about Cow with Calf dairy farming
· Late Oct – Nov – autumn calving will take place
For more information, contact or to arrange interviews contact:
Wilma Finlay on 01557 814040 or Wilma@creamogalloway.co.uk
Or Lorna Young on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01387 263 886 or 07872 492283. Please note mobile phone reception at the launch venue is unpredictable.
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