Three cheers for milk producer Neil Darwent for setting up Free Range Dairy to promote the value of pasture-based milk production in the UK.
His objectives are to:
- Create a truly sustainable dairy industry
- Demonstrate that good welfare and profitability go hand in hand
- Promote the value of milk from grass
- Engage farmers and consumers
- Facilitate knowledge transfer between farmers
He says that most milk in this country still comes from farms that have grass and grazing as an integral part of their system, which can be used to build a recognised brand for UK milk.
And at a time when the costs of feed, fuel and fertiliser are rising rapidly, pasture-based systems offer considerable scope to reduce the costs of milk production.
Neil is working with other farmers to help them make the best possible use of their grassland, as it needs careful management to fully utilise it.
The great thing about Neil is that he has experienced both sides of the production fence.
At one time he worked with thousands of high-producing cows hoping the economies of scale would produce a profit. But after a while, the additional support they needed, in terms of time, labour and other costs worried him.
He started to see that dual purpose cows kept in smaller herds on a pasture based system alongside the Holsteins, actually worked out more cost effective in the long run. This is what changed his previously held beliefs that US-style mega-dairies would be the only way forward for the UK dairy industry.
Up against Anchor butter
Of course New Zealand marketers have long been promoting 100% free range butter from cows ‘free to roam in lush, rolling pastures all year round, grazing on fresh green grass’ – no winter housing required and very little silage fed. Even the best pasture-based operators in this country cannot compete on these terms.
But we can on other aspects. For instance, milk produced from UK pasture is probably of the highest quality in terms of animal health and welfare in the world – no doubt the Free Range Dairy initiative will be capitalising on this over coming months.