It seems impossible to record reflections on the year gone by without using phrases like “what a year it’s been”, or “let’s hope next year will be better”. I think nearly all of us will have said similar things during the past few months.
2020 is closing with 75% of people in England living under Tier 4 Covid restrictions and similar rules are in place right across the UK. It’s no wonder we are all desperate for an end to this wretched virus and the constraints it imposes upon us, in 2021.
It is understandable that people have had far more pressing concerns than the provenance of their milk over the past 9 months and rightly so. Things haven’t been easy for us, or our farmers and the milk suppliers we work with, but we are still here and, for me, hope springs eternal.
There are some things I am extremely grateful for in this world, like my family and friends. But, I am also fortunate to have a strong sense of connection to the world around me – the trees, the earth, the birds. All of these things provide me with a constant sense of my place in a topsy-turvy world and have helped me through these difficult times.
If you are in the business of making New Year’s resolutions, I urge you include one very simple one, in the promises you make to yourself tonight. Promise yourself you will grab every opportunity to connect to the natural world around you and, I promise you, it will lift your spirits, awaken your senses and make you feel alive. If we all make a promise to connect with the earth beneath our feet, the birds in the sky and the life all around us, we really can make the world a better place in the months ahead.
Perhaps fittingly, 2021 is the year of the Ox (cow) in the Chinese zodiac. For these humble, hard working animals that provide us with the gift of beautiful milk, can teach us a lot about what is important in this world. It was living and working with cows that led me to do what I do today. Free Range Dairy strives to win a fair deal for traditional family farms but, equally important to us, is a fair deal for cows too.
It would perhaps be an exaggeration to say that I had some sort of biblical epiphany, which led me to question the relentless pursuit of higher milk yields from already over-worked cows. But it was whilst running a farm business with a number of dual-purpose Montbeliarde cows, over 10 years ago that I suddenly saw that I had lost sight of the true value of cows in this world.
I was aware these robust, red and white creatures didn’t give as much milk as Holstein cows, but they displayed other less obvious traits that are of real value to farmers. They didn’t just produce high quality milk (highly sought after by cheese makers in their native Jura region of France), they also produced valuable male calves for beef. Hence the term ‘dual-purpose’ cows.
I also discovered that Montbeliardes were made in such a way that they retained the capacity to look after themselves and their unborn offspring, by refusing to give every last drop of energy to producing another litre of milk. This enabled them to live long and productive lives, with little requirement for any veterinary attention and make good use of the abundant fresh grass grown on the farm.
Our Free Range Dairy farmers milk a variety of breeds of cow, including both Montbeliardes and Holsteins and all are being bred to develop more robust lines that thrive on a pasture-based system. Establishing value in milk from traditional, family farms, where cows are free to graze in fields throughout the spring and summer months, leads producers to adopt a more balanced approach to cow breeding and management.
For me, it is this focus on the value that a cow delivers rather than the volume (litres of milk) that we should strive to harness, if we are to ensure dairy farming continues to have place in this world and remains sustainable. Free Range Dairy Network aims to promote the true value of cows, because we believe this will lead people will make better choices that ensure cows do get a fair deal.
Please venture outside in the new year, when and where Covid restrictions allow and discover for yourself how wonderful nature really is. So much in our health and wellbeing stems from nature – freedom, fresh air and great food. We know cows free to graze in fields as nature intended, produce great tasting milk that enriches our lives.
There is still a lot of uncertainty about what lies ahead in 2021. But you can be sure spring will come, the grass will grow and beautiful cows will once again grace our pastures. Celebrate the year of the Ox by making the Pasture Promise and trust in nature to make things right again.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!