South Scotland

Galloway farm dairy champions 'ethical' cheese

Ethical cows Image copyright Other
Image caption The method uses milk from cows whose calves are allowed to stay with them to suckle

A farm dairy in south west Scotland believes it is leading the way for what it describes as "ethical" cheese.

It uses milk from cows whose calves are allowed to stay with them to suckle.

That differs from traditional methods where calves are taken away at birth allowing farmers to take two or three daily milkings from the cow.

David and Wilma Finlay, of Cream O'Galloway's Rainton Farm at Gatehouse of Fleet, say they hope their approach can be adopted by others in future.

Part of the motivation behind the move, they say, has been to answer increasing criticisms from the public by "de-intensifying" dairy farming.

That is why they have decided to head in a direction that is "almost the opposite" of the rest of the industry.

Image copyright Other
Image caption The farm hopes to persuade others to take their practices on board

"Our goal was to farm in a way that is resilient, ecologically sound and less stressful for the animals and the people working with them," said Mr Finlay.

"So we're leaving the calves with their mothers to suckle.

"It means we take less milk from each cow but we're seeing real benefits from this approach - longer living, healthier cows, less antibiotic use, faster-growing calves and less purchased feed."

Mrs Finlay said she had never been happy with seeing calves removed from their mothers within a few hours of birth.

"Having married into farming rather than grown up with it, the stress this places on the cow was always very obvious to me and I was never comfortable with it," she said.

"So we wanted to find a way to keep calves with the cows and still have a financially-viable farm.

"We don't want to have to choose between doing what's right and staying in business."

Image caption The project has required the construction of a new dairy to house both cows and calves

The Finlays admit that it has been a "long and expensive journey" involving the construction of a new dairy that can house both the growing calves and the cows.

An initial trial run failed but now they believe they can make it work.

"Financially it's been extremely challenging, but the cows and calves just love it," said Mr Finlay.

"We've given ourselves three years to break-even and 18 months in, we are already seeing some daylight."

A number of other farms across the UK are also taking a similar approach but only time will tell if it catches on.

"If all goes to plan we hope to demonstrate that food from the dairy industry can be produced with compassion for our animals, for our people and for our environment," said Mr Finlay.

"We also hope to show that far from being expensive, food produced this way can actually cost us less.

"This is just the beginning."

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