I have just had the unenviable task of putting down (shooting) a six month old calf on the farm. The animal in question has been suffering from a respiratory infection for a number of weeks and was obviously in great discomfort, despite our attempts to nurse it back to health. This is a task which is mercifully rare but it never fails to bring home the responsibility we livestock farmers carry. All of our work is centred on caring for animals and to have to end a life goes against everything we strive to achieve.
Why am I telling you this? Well, I do not blame anyone for this sad loss on our farm, but it made me think about the responsibility we all share in consuming food – particularly milk and meat. The first thing we have to acknowledge is that if we eat meat, animals will be killed to provide it. Having made that choice, we should then behave responsibly by making sure the animals farmed to feed us enjoy a happy and healthy life and that includes our dairy cows who work hard for us every day.
The farmer, the keeper of the animal, is ultimately responsible for its wellbeing. But, everyone who buys meat and milk shares that responsibility when they fill their basket in the supermarket. The continual push for cheap food being driven by supermarkets is an act of gross irresponsibility, since this puts tremendous pressure on the animals that we farm.
Free Range Dairy is currently asking milk producers to sign up to the Pasture Promise, which will guarantee that dairy cows have the freedom to graze our fields. A single, simple pledge that allows the cows that provide our milk, cream, butter, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream to live the most natural life we can afford them. I believe that grazing is a right for our cows and to withhold that right would be irresponsible. I understand that summers (particularly the last one) can be short in some parts of our island and in winter months the cows are glad of the feed and shelter we give them. But, I am looking for farmers who share that sense of responsibility and will endeavour to provide their herds with the freedom to graze grass as often as possible.
Beyond, freedom to graze, Free Range Dairy insists that male calves are not shot at birth on farms. As was brought home to me this morning, farmers have a huge responsibility to try and make every life on the farm healthy and happy. So, I ask everyone who buys milk and meat to remember the responsibility they have when they are next out shopping for food. We can produce free range milk but we need consumers to demand it. In return Free Range Dairy farmers can offer real value in the milk they produce – a better life for the cows, healthy milk and care of the countryside. So, shop responsibly and we can all enjoy a better life!