Free range milk #notallmilkisthesame
Throughout the eighties and nineties battery hen farming received international attention and condemnation for it’s cruel practices. Nowadays, thankfully, free range eggs are the norm and battery eggs are seen less and less. So, you would think that the same would apply to cows, right?
Unfortunately, what many people may not realise is that cows don’t actually need to graze in pasture in order to produce milk. More often than not, the milk from large, intensive farms, where the cows never go outdoors is lumped together with milk from traditional, grazing herds and sold as one homogenous product sold as milk.
On a glorious day, in June, we were invited to Barhouse Farm in Elmore, Gloucestershire to learn how a small but fast growing group of farmers are on a crusade to improve the quality of the milk we drink and, with it, the lives of the cows and the countryside they inhabit.
Established in 2014, social enterprise, Free Range Dairy was set up by dairy farmer Neil Darwent to offer an alternative that gives farmers, cows and consumers a brighter outlook. By committing to the #pasturepromise farmers graze their cows on lush, green grass for at least six months of the year and in winter the diet is founded on grass conserved as silage and hay. There is increasing evidence to show that cows that are grazed are much healthier and happier and that milk from grass is lower in saturated fat and higher in healthy fats like Omega-3, making it better for us too.
Whilst this, more natural, style of farming is sympathetic to the cows and their habitat, it inevitably results in reduced milk yields for the farmers thus affecting their revenue. The silver lining however is that farmers are compensated for reduced yields through reduced vet and drug bills for their happier, healthier cows.
Neil Darwent explains, “Unlike the big dairies that mix milk from different kinds of farms, the small dairies we work with, such as Cotteswold Dairy, collect milk from approved Free Range Dairy herds using dedicated tankers and keep it segregated from other milk at the dairy. By choosing milk bearing the Pasture Promise label you can help to keep cows in fields where they belong and reward farmers for producing healthy, nutritious milk.”
This standardisation of milk has done farmers a real disservice. They work long hours, care for their cows and produce milk to a high standard but the race to the bottom, in pursuit of cheap milk, has devalued a great food source.
Jenni Hobbs from Barhouse Farm crystallised the problem in her blog post, “We aren’t talking about a cheap commodity that isn’t crucial to our day-to-day living – we are talking about milk, a wholefood, something we need in a balanced diet, something we use every day in our cup of tea or coffee, on our cereal and in our cooking.”
“We aren’t asking for much, just a few pence above what it costs to produce your daily pint, to be able to give our cows the care and attention they deserve and, above everything else, ensure they have the freedoms and the right to graze for at least six months a year, doing what they do best with the greatest, most natural, nutritious food they could ask for – grass. It’s a food that rears livestock to slow-grow meat, to slow-grow milk, to give us beauty in our countryside that helps biodiversity through bugs, insects, birds and wildlife.”