It’s that time of year when we can feel the world around us changing, as suddenly summer seems to have slipped away. Shortening daylight, colder mornings, mist and dew, accompanied by a rich hue of orange and gold colours splashed across the once green landscape, announce the arrival of autumn.
Still today, in mid October, the cows are out at grass, enjoying some wonderful weather. However, as the days get colder and, almost inevitably, wetter, Free Range Dairy farmers will begin bringing their cows indoors for the winter. So, we want to celebrate and give thanks for the wonderful grazing season that Mother Nature has provided us this year. There are a number of Harvest Festival services and celebrations taking place around the country at this time, to give thanks for the abundant crops that have been reaped. For us, it’s about giving thanks for the rich green pasture that has provided grazing for the cows in summer and which has also been harvested to feed them in the winter months ahead.
The work of Free Range Dairy Network CIC is all about establishing recognition for a clearly defined farming system that produces great tasting milk, whilst allowing cows the freedom to spend the summer months grazing in fields. Milk bearing the Pasture Promise label only comes from farms where the cows are grazed for a minimum of 180 days and nights a year. Typically the grazing season runs from mid April to late October, depending on where the farms are located and the seasonal pattern of grass growth. However, many farmers extend grazing beyond this period. You can find out more about the Free Range Dairy farming system in our Frequently Asked Questions.
With the onset of autumn, grass growth slows and the cows often need ‘buffer feed’ to supplement their diets and meet their huge appetites. Once winter arrives, the land becomes wet and heavy cows can do damage by ‘poaching’ the fields, leaving deep footprints and compacting the soil. This impedes drainage, reduces grass growth in the following season and creates environmental issues. So free range milk production is all about taking a responsible approach to milk and farming. Our system seeks to deliver what is right for cows, people and planet and that includes housing the cows for part of the year. I often use the simple analogy of free range hens being shut in at night, for their benefit, keeping them safe from predators. Whilst our cows do not fall prey to hungry attackers, they do need food and shelter that the fields deny them in winter.
But, let’s not be sad about closing the gate to the fields for the last time – let’s give thanks for all that summer 2016 has delivered us and look forward to another long and fruitful grazing season next year, by including grass and grazing in our Harvest Festival celebrations. You can help us to establish recognition and value for cows in fields, on traditional, family dairy farms, by making the Pasture Promise.