How many cows do you see in fields these days? Well, right now probably none, as it’s winter time and most are indoors for food and shelter. But, even in the spring and summer months, the number of dairy cows going out to graze is declining.
Less than half the number of dairy herds we had in the UK 20 years ago are still around today. The drive to deliver cheap milk, has driven thousands of farmers to cease production and those that remain, have been offered little alternative other than to get bigger or get out. The Free Range Dairy Network CIC was set up to try and give traditional, pasture-based dairy farms a different way forward, by giving their milk an identity in the marketplace, under the Pasture Promise logo.
Free Range Dairy Network CIC does not buy or sell milk, we are a ‘not for profit’ organisation that works to win a fair deal for farmers and cows and that’s all about offering you a more informed choice about the kind of farms your milk comes from. In order to achieve that we created a set of standards to define free range milk production on farms, which are monitored by ourselves and an independent certification body. Our farmers come from generations who have turned their cows out into the fields to graze every summer. But a way of life, for them and their cows, is under threat from relentless pressure to deliver more for less.
We know that many people want to choose milk from the kind of farms we represent, because they want to see cows in fields and they want to support the small family farms that make up the fabric of our rural landscape. We have been delighted with the response we have had to the launch of Pasture Promise free range milk and, with your help, we are now starting to make a difference for farmers and cows. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, the publicity we have generated for our mission, has caused concerns for those who have hitherto traded off a widely held perception that all cows live in fields and some assert their cows are free range, with little evidence of what really happens on farms.
We support and promote a variety of regional and local milk and dairy brands derived from cows farmed in accordance with our standards. We are here to win recognition and reward for the farmers and cows that produce them. We are acutely aware of the lack of integrity in many food labels and transparency is key to our agenda for changing that. We know milk is super food, packed with nutrients, minerals and vitamins, but transparency and truth are often the missing ingredients in milk. That’s why we have issued a press release, giving details of the number of days (and nights) cows were grazed in 2017, on each farm supplying milk to be sold under the Pasture Promise logo. Below are more details of what free range really means to us and our farmers.
The Pasture Promise logo assures you of the following:
All milking cows must be grazed for a minimum of 180 days a year and farmers are not permitted to keep cows indoors overnight or for the early stages of lactation to pursue high milk yields.
Cows are only permitted to be on yards or in buildings for up to one hour before or after milking during the grazing season, after this they must return to the fields.
Farms are only selected for production of free range milk if they already demonstrate a clear commitment to keeping cows in fields. Most will graze for considerably more than 180 days a year when weather permits.
Farmers are permitted to apply for a derogation to temporarily house cows during the grazing season if extreme weather conditions threaten to compromise the welfare of the animals.
Farmers are not permitted to shoot calves at birth.
Farms are independently inspected by a recognised certification body at no more than 18 month intervals.
There is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to find this kind of information on all milk you buy, other than the fact that those supplying it don’t want you to know. If you read claims that cows are free range, please ask what that really means. If labels tell you cows are grazed for 120 days a year, ask whether that means all of the cows and does it mean they are grazed at night too?
Help us to win recognition and reward for those farmers who are truly committed to giving their cows the freedom to graze, by asking for the Pasture Promise logo whenever you buy milk.