One thing that is becoming very apparent from the feedback I have had regarding the definition of Free Range Dairy herds, is that achieving 180 days at grass has been very difficult (if not impossible) on a number of farms this year – particularly in the north of England and in Scotland.
A farmer from north-west Scotland informed me that despite putting in 5km of new cow tracks for this season, the fields were just too wet to graze when the cows got there. Others have told of similar seasonal challenges and have expressed concern that they will effectively fail to meet requirements for free range status, despite their desire to maximise the time their cows spend at grass.
Free Range Dairy has always been about creating a movement of like-minded farmers who share a commitment to providing their cows with the freedom to graze grass, during the growing season, whether or not it delivers a premium for their price. I welcome both those who graze their cows all year round and those who, due to regional constraints, graze for a far shorter period.
If it is evident on your farm that there is sufficient pasture to provide a large portion of your herds’ feed requirements, there is infrastructure such as good fences, water troughs and tracks and pasture is well managed, it is highly likely that you are committed to grazing your cows. However, for those who buy our milk and dairy products, we need to define this commitment in simpler terms – hence my suggestion that we set the bar at 180 days grazing each year. Obviously, the more days the cows spend at grass, the stronger the image of free range becomes. But, through delivering clear messages to consumers about how we farm our cows, I believe we can create a good understanding of why the amount of time spent at grass may vary from region to region or from year to year.
Anyone who is only interested in joining Free Range Dairy to achieve an extra one or two pence a litre for their milk has failed to grasp what it’s all about. Those who can demonstrate that grass plays a key role in their business and who agree that cows should have seasonal access to grazing, are the true Free Range Dairy farmers. So, if you have endured an awful grazing season like most of us, or you farm halfway up a mountain in Scotland, you are still welcome to make the Pasture Promise and join us.
You may feel the dairy industry is currently awash with new initiatives to secure a better deal for farmers but, Free Range Dairy offers a unique platform for us to instil value in UK dairy farms. Please keep your feedback coming – it is invaluable in helping to establish a clear definition of free range milk production.