So let’s talk about “The True Cost of Milk”. Firstly, it should be renamed “The True Cost of Intensive Farming” – family farms do not abuse the animals they build their lives around. We started the DDC so that we could continue to farm the way Dan’s grandfather did and stay clear of the intensification forced on to the industry by most of the big milk buyers. As we supply Barber’s (a cheesemaker), and as dairy processors ourselves, we focus on the quality of the milk rather than pushing the cows to produce as much as possible. We watched the undercover BBC Panorama footage with horror, along with the majority of dairy farmers – both at the abuse of this particular herd and sweeping generalisation being made about the industry as a whole. After a customer at a Farmers’ Market returned all his refillable milk bottles, we decided to address the issues brought up by the programme.
Lameness – our whole set up and processes are centred around the cow – we do everything possible to minimise standing time before milking and our policy to is to keep it under an hour. We are able to do this as we have a large parlour for a small herd. In winter, we fill the feed troughs and clean the sheds of each group as they are milked to minimise disruption. In summer, the cows are out to grass and the tracks leading to the parlour are covered in old Astroturf rather than stones or concrete. Finally, the vets foot score our herd on a quarterly basis whilst our dairyman keeps an eye on lameness everyday and treat any signs of it immediately.
Abuse – we do not kick or punch our cows, nor do we hit them with shovels or brooms. It is incredibly rare for a cow to go down in our parlour – if a cow is poorly she would not be allowed in the parlour, the risks are too high. If a cow does go down, it is important to give them as much space as possible and straps can be used to aid her back up. Hip-hoists are a useful tool and effective for both cow and farmer when used correctly to move a cow in an emergency. If a cow is in a significant amount of pain with no likelihood of recovery, we will euthanise her ourselves if a vet is not available. She will not be left to suffer. Finally, the cows are the heart of the farm and Louis, our dairyman, always puts them first and constantly finding ways to improve their health and welfare. Most people clock off at 5pm but Louis goes out again at 9pm, whatever the weather, to check on them.
Calves – a controversial topic even within the industry. As the farm stands, we do not have the facilities to run a cow with calf system. We separate them at birth to prevent the cow and calf from forming a bond that would later have to be broken. We use a straw lined trailer towed by a quad bike to bring them to their warm, safe and clean calf pens where they don’t run the risk of trampling or faecally transmitted infections. Finally, we can also monitor cow and calf health post-partum better without them getting dangerously protective.
On 12th June, we will be hosting our first Open Farm Sunday and invite all our customers and those interested in learning more about us, and farming in general, to attend. More information to follow.