The cows at Emma’s Dairy, part of Gazegill Farm near Clitheroe, are something special. If you go amongst the 60 strong herd of short horns, then the biggest danger you face is being wiped over with a warm, wet tongue – actually quite an issue when you have an expensive camera in your hand! The cows are just so laid back and nosey, quite amazing. Can’t help but feel that this is all down to the attitude shown towards them by proprietors, Emma and Ian.
To my way of thinking, for those of us who consider the ethics and sustainability of our food, the issue of whether to eat dairy should be a bigger one than the issue of whether to eat meat. The life of a typical dairy cow is dire. Pregnant for a large part of your life, lactating for most of it and fed a diet of grain and grot that you were never intended to eat. On top of that calves removed from you at birth, bull calves shot. The ethical price of supplying milk at £1 per 2 litres is enormous.
Equally to me, the answer is not to tar all dairy farms with the same brush but to seek out those with acceptable practices from which to source my food. Emma’ s Dairy fits very much into this bracket. Calves are left with mothers for at least some sort of respectable time, bull calves are not shot but reared for meat,and the whole ethos in terms of approach to the animals is one of respect and compassion. It is this which I believe the cows are responding to in their approach to us humans.
I joined Emma on her morning milking stint and followed everything through to the processing and filling in their small on site dairy. That meant being there around 6 in the morning – when she was well under way – and not lunching til early afternoon. The rest of the afternoon was about rounding up the sheep and bringing them to the farm shed in anticipation of lambing. As dusk began to gather I was able to leave, Emma meanwhile was on her way back to the milking parlour to do the evening shift. Its not just the animals that can suffer in milk production, the life of the herdsman is also demanding. Twelve hour days, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year is hard – and it shows in the poor mental health records of many dairymen. In terms of both human and animal welfare, those who queue up to buy at £1 per 2 litre should be ashamed of what they are doing!
Just for the record, unhomogenised, unpasteurised, raw milk from cows fed entirely on grass or silage costs £1.50 per litre at the Gazegill farm shop. I don’t know why more farmers don’t go down this route. Yes there is capital expenditure required to set up, but you free yourself from the tyranny of a commodity market and restrict the flow of cheap milk to those in society addicted to cheapness at any price. A bit less moaning and a bit more innovative thinking would go an awful long way!
Rant over!!!! I suspect that not everyone will see eye to eye with what I have said – so be it, I think the insight into the issues can only benefit from a thorough airing. If you want to shoot me down, go ahead lets have the debate. I’ll prepare for being fired at………but do enjoy the pictures first!
For more on Emma’s Dairy and the dairy products made there, see the Gazegill farm website
[Double clicking on any of the images below will open up that image up in a slideshow format. You can then run the slide show using ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. Personally I prefer to go also to full screen having opened the slide show – F11 on my PC, don’t forget to get out of full screen is the same button , not ESC!]