By Jenni Hobbs, The Hobbs family at Barhouse Farm.
I am writing this blog sat beside my husband Jerry on a stack of bales watching and bidding at a friend’s dispersal sale. A dispersal sale is the total sale of a whole herd of cows and this particular one today belongs to one of, if not the best, dairy farmer I know. The latest dairy crisis is the worst I can remember and, I am told by a 76-year-old friend at the sale, the worst he’s ever known.
The last dairy crisis this bad was in the 1920’s which resulted in the implementation of the Milk Marketing Board in 1933 to protect our dairy farmers and the industry as it was. It is heart-breaking to see herds like this go, but it has been happening over and over again across the UK at this very moment in time.
We don’t do what we do just because we love our cows, but it is one of the reasons we stick at it so long whilst losing money. It is so hard to see a farmer’s entire life’s work being sold in a ring for less than they are worth just because the supply-chain is so messed up, fragmented and unregulated. It means the very people that work the hardest to produce milk get the least, 19.5p is what we will receive per litre for our June’s supply. If cows could understand this, they would refuse to provide it.
The reason I am so sad today is because our friend is good at what he does, he works hard and gives everything he has to it – come rain, snow and sun. Everywhere I go the general public can’t believe how cheap milk is. They don’t even bother looking at the price because they need it and because it costs pence not pounds. In my last blog I was feeling real despair because of the constant milk price drops; since then we’ve had two more price drops.
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. I am losing heart, I am worried and I am totally disheartened by the state of the industry and the powers that be that are controlling it.
But when we opened our farm last week I felt a ray of hope. We welcomed people who are keen to look at our cows and learn about how we run our farm here in Gloucestershire, it was so refreshing for us to connect with end users and distributors who don’t get to come on farm every day (if ever). It absolutely blew my mind at how they loved the animals, they loved the fresh air and (it goes without saying!) good old farmhouse cooking. If we could have enthusiasm like that, total appreciation for what we do even on a small scale every week it would make us feel valued and wanted – something we absolutely don’t feel as producers normally and that might translate into a fair price for our milk.
This is why for us Free Range Dairy Network, it’s support and its connection with like-minded individuals who are keen to push Pasture Promise free range milk to the general public, restaurants, coffee shops, hotels and other organisations is a positive approach to the dairy crisis. It is great to be part of a movement that values our produce, that is interested in what we do and cares about us and our herds. Right now I feel that on every level in the supply chain, governments, MPs and even our own farmers aren’t pulling together for the common aim of providing a sustainable income for dairy farmers. There’s a saying you don’t always value what you’ve got until it’s gone. Once traditional dairy farmers are gone, herds broken up, farms sold there is no going back.
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.
I was talking to a farmer at the sale today, his cows don’t go out and he asked what does Free Range Dairy mean? I told him it means allowing dairy cows a minimum of 180 days grazing outside doing what they do best with the greatest, most natural, nutritious food they could ask for – grass. It’s not rocket science, it’s one of the reasons we have 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. It’s not much but it’s everything to us and our girls!