The Ethical Dairy produces traditional cheeses and luxury ice-cream using organic milk from their herd. This milk is produced using the cow and calf method which involves keeping calves with their mothers to suckle and is based upon treating the animals, land, environment, and workers with respect and compassion. As the first commercial dairy farm in the UK to adopt this model a balance has been struck between ethical considerations and the operation of a financially viable farm. The approach has seen a marked improvement in the cows’ health and contentment. Whilst, also promoting a more sustainable grass-based farming system.
The Ethical dairy based at Rainton Farm, is the first commercial dairy in the UK to follow the cow with calf method. In response to the growing concerns surrounding the intensification of dairy farming, a new dairy was built in 2012 to house calves with their mother’s and the full cow with calf approach was pioneered. The radical method itself involves keeping calves with their mothers to suckle as opposed to the traditional removal of the calf within a few hours of their birth. Although the initial trial was financially challenging, the impact on cow contentment was astounding. All the animals became markedly calmer and confident whilst developing an independence from their mother akin to that of a teenager within two to three months.
In October 2016, the target of proving the system could work at a family farm level within three years was set. Since then, all calves have remained with their mothers for five to six months and are milked once a day. This has allowed the calves to suckle, foster maternal bonds and express natural behaviour whilst simultaneously improving productivity. At the end of the three-year pilot scheme, the farm committed to continuing with the approach permanently having seen first-hand the long-lasting viability of the method environmentally and financially. Dairy farming is simplified and de-intensified to create a more sustainable ecological system. This affords the cows greater levels of health and contentment. Whilst the calves can flourish being reared by their mother and can grow twice as fast. Meanwhile, farm input costs are reduced.