Thanks to an article by the wonderful Joanna Blythman in a recent Guardian, I have just discovered about this brilliant initiative.
Built up over the last five years by Somerset farmer, Neil Darwent, Free Range Dairy has created a set of standards and a logo, Pasture Promise, to be used by farmers who have committed to grazing their cows outdoors, on grass, for at least six months of each year. And they have just persuaded Asda to sell it in 100 stores!
So what’s the big deal? Well, the big deal is that because milk is sold at such a ludicrously low price the only way that farmers can make any money out of dairy farming is to keep their cows indoors where they can feed them high protein foods to force them to produce ever more milk – and/or for them to increase the size of their intensive farming operation. Indeed, it was the proposal to build an 8,000 cow mega dairy in Lincolnshire in 2010, where the cows would spend their whole lives indoors, that decided Neil to start Free Range Dairy.
Neil, along with the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming – and most members of the public – do not believe that cows should spend their lives indoors. OK, in the winter months when it is cold and wet and there really is not enough grass to feed them properly, but for the rest of the year they should be out in the fields, where the Good Lord intended them to be, eating the grass, rolling in it and enjoying the sun. And – being outside and eating grass not only makes for happier cows but for healthier cows and for healthier, more nutritious milk.
Yes, it does make the milk more expensive at 90p a litre – as against 45p–65p a litre for standard supermarket milk – but roughly on a par with most organic milks. (Of course, organic milk is also largely ‘free range’ in as much as organic cows do spend a very reasonable proportion of their time outside and eating grass. But organic rules do specify, nor do they monitor, how long this may be or what the food the cows are eating. Free Range Dairy does.)
So where can you find free range milk and what can you do to help spread the word?
If you are a farmer and want to join the scheme it will cost you £50 a year; if you are just a potential supporter, it will cost you £2 a month to give:
- ‘Support to our belief that cows should have the freedom to graze and express natural behaviour
- Support to British dairy farmers who want to improve management of their cows as well as their soils and pasture
- Support to a sustainable milk production that helps biodiversity and the environment
- Support our aim to provide clearer labelling on milk and dairy products to help you make an informed choice about the way we look after our farms and cows’
See here for both.
And, of course, you can spread the word by asking shops to sell it – and coffee shops and cafés to use it! The Sustainable Restaurant Association were early supporters and a number of their members, such as the Breakfast Club, already do so.