This week I have honed in a bit on what I am hoping to achieve with Milk Mondays. Although I avoid consuming dairy products, for a number of reasons, it is probably quite unhelpful to advocate the abolition of dairy farming so here is my message:
1. Consumers have both a right and a responsibility to know where their milk comes from and I want to encourage people to use that choice.
2. We don’t NEED milk. Some people may wish to give up dairy altogether. Perhaps this will contribute to a wider questioning of the myth that we have need for cows milk that cannot be met in other ways and reduce the demand that drives the markets.
3. Those who do continue to consume dairy products can ensure that they come from farming practices that they approve of. At the end of the day, dairy farmers need to prioritise maximising productivity and minimising costs whatever that involves but it is the rest of us who drive this by wanting cheap milk and lots of it.
4. We need to advocate at least for small scale local and organic production that is likely to be kinder to cows and the environment. In time, I hope there will be those who can move on to slaughter-free and hand milking methods. Farms already practicing these alternatives need our support through buying their milk (see Ahimsa Milk).
5. There are alternatives to factory farming that are more humane. We have a choice here.
6. Zero grazing factory farming is a step in the wrong direction. In order to prevent its inception and growth in Britain we need to activley campaign against plans such as Nocton Dairies are proposing in Lincolnshire as well as using consumer pressure and boycotting factory farmed milk.
I wonder how many people who pour milk on their cornflakes every morning are aware that:
1.The incidence of lameness in our national herd is estimated at 20-34% at any time. That is virtually a third of cows cannot walk properly through injury or being overweight. Lame cows spend less time feeding and struggle to meet their nutritional needs that are already overloaded by having to produce milk for their entire useful life. farmers are encouraged to combat this with painkillers so productivity is not compromised rather than addressing some of the systemic issues.
2. Cows are getting bigger. In the last 30 years, the average cow has increased in weight by 200kg but many of them are still trying to fit in stalls built for smaller cows.
3. Herds are getting bigger. Although, according to the Dairy Co. Farmer Intentions Survey, the UK herd has reduced by 270,000 cows in the last decade, the average herd size has increased by 40%. This has not been reflected by a 40% increase in the staffing levels per 100 cows. The falling ratio of stockmen to cows is only likely to translate into less attention being given to individual cows and more stress on existing staff. Pressure to keep larger herds is coming from supermarkets who would rather deal with one farmer than several in order to fuel our ridiculous demand for more of the white stuff.
4. Dairy cows drink 100 litres of water a day each. Multiply this by the number in the herd (say 400) and days in the year and a single herd can be needing 14600 million litres of water a year.
5. Due to the climate in 2010, farmers are facing a shortfall in the availability of local forage to feed cows through the winter (we didn’t grow enough grass). This will be compensated for with expensive imported feeds and corn. Cows won’t be eating much grass this winter. Not surprisingly the forage crisis may play in favour of introducing zero grazing in the UK as it is less likely to be affected by the vagaries of the climate.
6. After an average of 3.5 lactations, most dairy cows will not be much use in spite of only having lived for about a third of their natural lifespan.
If the reader would like to find out more about what zero grazing really means then I recommend downloading this booklet provided by Animal Aid UK. It includes an insider’s account from a farm worker who abandoned zero grazing because he saw what it does to the animals.
Details for the last 6 points have been sourced from The Mole Valley Farmers Newsletter – August 2010, Dairy Focus edition. Many thanks to Mole Valley Farmers.
- Britain’s largest dairy farm planned (telegraph.co.uk)
- Industrial dairy farming: Not like grandad’s day (economist.com)
- A Tale of Two Farms (5minutesforgoinggreen.com)