Alternative Dairy Farmers

Last updated: October 2017



Small-scale dairy farmers


Jyoti Fernandes from the Landworkers’ Alliance discusses alternative dairy farmers in the UK and the urgent need for dairy reform


Milk is a very special liquid, requiring an abundance of land, the hard work of farmers and the generosity of cows to produce it. Yet so many consumers expect it to be cheaper than a pint of beer or even a bottle of water.


Image: Cow


Consumer demand for cheap milk has resulted in a need for economies of scale in the dairy industry that has driven the ethics of dairy production down. The governments’ relentless push for the dairy sector to enter the global market propels farmers into competition, with animals reared to lower standards in order to keep prices down. This means that herds get bigger, milkers get more stressed out, and cows are bred to produce far beyond a level that is healthy and stress free for them.

Cheap prices also mean that farms can’t afford to hire more employees to help out, so farmers are tired and stretched in their capacity to look after their animals, which of course, has an effect on animal welfare.

I am a small-scale dairy farmer based in Dorset and work for the Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA) – a union of small-scale producers and family farmers. I’ve been keeping cows for the last 15 years so that my family and local customers can have milk and cheese that we feel happy about.

I did not want to become a vegan because I love milk and also believe that cows and goats play an important role in maintaining our pastoral grassland ecosystems and beautiful, productive countryside. I earn money from my cows by making higher-value products like cheese and yoghurt to sell.

Along with other farmers who care deeply about our animals and the land, we believe that the whole dairy system needs urgent reform to allow everyone to have access to more humane and sustainable choices about their milk.



Sustainable systems


There are many other ‘alternative’ dairy farmers, like myself, who get a fair price for milk by selling directly to the consumer using a wide variety of production methods designed to create systems that work in co-operation with animals, nature and wider sustainability issues.



Vegetarian farms


The Ahimsa Dairy Foundation, sell milk from a system where no animals are slaughtered. All dairy production comes from animals who need to have a calf or a kid to start lactation, but the Ahimsa milk producers keep all of their calves and raise the males for training for work and the females as future milk producers.



Keeping the females

Some producers choose to leave the calves with their mothers until they are slowly weaned, then send the male calves or kids off for meat, while keeping the females. An amazing dairy using this system is The Calf at Foot dairy.



Direct delivery


Some farms, like North Aston Dairy, deliver their milk straight to the doorstep, so are able to ensure a fair price for their milk which covers the costs of maintaining high welfare. There are some Community Supported Farms, like Chagfarm, 

Chagfarm, that also work directly with local communities, sharing the economic risks of producing their high-welfare goat milk.


Sustainable feed

To encompass concerns about the sustainability of imported feed, many producers choose to feed their cows on grass and Lucerne (a type of alfalfa). The Pasture Fed Livestock Association, 

Pasture for Life, has a list of suppliers who feed their animals entirely on feed – mostly grass – from the UK.



Small scale, high standards


These creative farmers push the boundaries for the most ethical milk available but, in reality, most small-scale family dairy farms have very high standards for their animals. Almost all of the small-scale dairy farmers I know care deeply about their cows. Small-scale dairy farms need reliable support from ‘consumers who care’ to stay viable.



More than consumption


Beyond supporting better choices with your consumer power, you can also support campaigns for better government policy on dairy. Both consumers and farmers need to resist our government policy to create more intensive mega-dairies and globalise the dairy industry.

You can join the LWA as a supporter member for example.

Farmers for Action have been campaigning for the dairy processors and supermarkets to pay them a fair price for their milk, so they don’t have to get themselves into this race to the bottom.





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