The first Free Range Dairy regional meeting took place at Duchy College, in Cornwall, on 22nd March and it provided a valuable opportunity to share some thoughts and ideas on free range milk production. Thanks to all those who attended!
As I have said before, I am not trying to carve out a niche market for a select few under the banner of Free Range Dairy but, rather, to create an industry-wide movement that promotes the values of pasture-based systems. Whether you run a spring-calving Jersey herd producing 4,000 litres of milk per cow or an all-year-round calving Holstein herd with yields of 8,000 litres plus, grazing can play big part in securing the future of your business. Not only because grazed grass is a cheap feed, but it also offers a real opportunity to promote your farm and your milk to consumers. There is increasing interest in how we farm and the role of dairy in a healthy diet. Free Range Dairy can help farmers to ensure that those who buy our milk and dairy products, can be confident they are getting a nutritious product, from cows managed in a way that they would like to see them kept.
So, taking into account responses to our recent farmer survey and discussions with milk producers, I am inviting farmers to subscribe to the Free Range Dairy movement on the basis of a simple commitment to grazing to their herds. Initially, this commitment is not defined by a stipulated number of days at grass each year, but by a demonstrating that cows are grazed as much as possible within the constraints of climate and soil type. It is easy for the public to understand why most of us house our dairy herds in winter, so I am not asking farmers to graze their herds for 365 days of the year. To this end I am currently working on a simple ‘pasture budget’ which farmers will be able to download from the website. This will enable farmers to show that they are providing adequate grazing area to permit their cows to take a significant portion of their diet from grazed grass during the growing season.
I anticipate that those joining Free Range Dairy now will be individuals who recognise the benefits of grazing and practice on farm will not need to be policed by standards and audits. We will work together to establish what is realistically achievable in different corners of the UK and put together simple standards that will define free range milk production in the minds of consumers. In addition to a commitment to grazing cows, producers will also need to show that they are breeding robust cows, which deliver male calves that can be readily marketed. We cannot promote milk from herds that are grazed for 300 days of the year if male calves are shot at birth.
The likelihood is you are already a Free Range Dairy producer, get in touch and tell us your thoughts. We are looking to put as many case studies of Free Range Dairy farms on the website as possible. Why not let us know how you manage your herd and your ideas for promoting milk from grazed herds? just drop us a line and we’ll send you a simple questionnaire.