In The Country Magazine
In The Country

Farming Friday: Februdairy

Afternoon all. Sorry this is a little overdue, I went to see a Bee Gee’s Tribute Band in Brighton last night with James’ mum. I wanted to try something a little bit different this week seeing as it is the first Friday in February or should I say… Februdairy.

Farmers have been urged to jump on board and support this month long campaign in an attempt to raise vital awareness of the real goings on within the world of dairy farming and to celebrate all things dairy and the hard work, dedication and LONGGG hours that go into producing each glass of milk you drink. Those who live or have lived and worked on farms all over the world are the only people who can really educate those who constantly critique dairy farming and the way in which cows are treated. 

This post is me, showing my support for our dairy farmers. Join in by tagging #Februdairy in your social posts and spread the word. SUPPORT DAIRY. SUPPORT YOUR DAIRY FARMERS.

Now before I open a can of worms here, I just want to say that I am not anti-vegan, I respect everyone’s decision and freedom of choice but what frustrates me more than anything is the fact that vegans seemingly feel the need to impose their beliefs on everyone else. The majority of the time their arguments are ill-informed and they know very little about what actually happens on the majority of dairy farms. 

I have a number of both vegetarian and vegan friends who I respect hugely – one of my very closest friends is vegan in fact. We often have discussions about the whys etc but what makes them different is their willingness to listen, to learn and to try and see both sides without trying to preach their beliefs to me.

The power of this witty month name campaign trend is incredible. We have just reached the end of aptly named Veganuary – the aim of which was that non vegans would give up meat and dairy products for the month of January. The opinion that launching a pro-dairy campaign to directly counteract the ‘success‘ of Veganuary is absurd and in my opinion a typical example of the childish and close minded attitude vegans have towards those of us who aren’t. 

I think it is safe to say that the majority of non-vegans, especially farmers, respected the Veganuary campaign attempt and let them have their say throughout the month. Whether we agreed or not, however the same cannot be said for us. Vegans have collectively decided to jump onto the back of the Februdairy campaign determined to ‘ensure the industry is exposed.’ 

Industry professionals have taken things one step further with the launch of a separate initiative to try and battle the slander and negativity from those against dairy and to highlight the nutritional benefits that milk can have on consumers. ‘Tell It Like It Is‘ was launched as a joint initiative by Dairy UK, AHDB and The Dairy Council.

Whilst I am no longer a dairy farmer, my connection and passion for the industry still remains as strong as it was when I was dairy farming. I have huge respect for each and every one of them and I am lucky enough to empathise with dairy famers generally but in particularly now when the industry is subject to un-educated slander and constant negativity. I haven’t yet experienced work on a British dairy farm, only those in New Zealand BUT I have many friends working on various dairy farms nationwide and the story is much the same.

The cows are loved, cared for and treated with the upmost respect.

 I am not going to get into the whole this is what really happens on dairy farms as I think most of you already know, however I have tried to de-bunk a few of the most common misconceptions about dairy farming.

 1. The dairy industry is harmful to the environment – wrong. The carbon footprint of British liquid milk is 1.17kg carbon dioxide which is in fact LOWER than the footprint of processed fruit or vegetables.

2. Dairy farmers don’t care about their cows at all they just use them for their milk. –  wrong. I have yet to visit a farm where this is the case. As with any industry or any walk of life there will always be a small minority of people who let the overall image down and unfortunately these are the people or stories that often end up in mainstream media. The same can be said for honest dog breeders vs puppy farms for example. The wider majority are genuine, dedicated and passionate about their animals BUT there are some who do not care at all, mass breed, cross breed and only care about the money.

3. Male dairy calves are shot when they’re born. – right. To an extent, a lot of male born dairy calves do get shot but the number is decreasing. This is a more tricky point because it’s like standing at an ethical cross roads in my opinion. The use of artificial sexed semen is helping to reduce this by increasing the number of guaranteed heifers (females) and by investing more resources to scientifically develop this further, dairy farmers will be able to significantly reduce the number of male (bull) calves born which then end up being shot.

Farmers are able to sell or raise bull calves for beef production but this is often at a large cost to the farmer and is not something that many dairy farmers can sustainably afford to do alongside running a dairy business. There are a growing number of beef farmers who are taking on these bull calves as sold by diary farmers and rearing them for beef and there are in fact companies who will only take dairy bred beef. Many say that Holstein (dairy) beef is as good as any other beef such as Angus, Hereford or Dexter. If we can get more and more people to realise this and take on Holstein bull calves from dairy farmers to be reared for beef and sold onto the market then surely that can only be a positive thing for the industry and the calves quality of life?

4. We don’t NEED dairy in our diets. – right. Vegan activists regularly use this argument and promote this misconception on the basis that many young animals are weaned off their mother’s milk onto a hard food or plant based diet and very few adult animals actively seek milk as food. Based on this, they suggest that we should essentially wean ourselves off milk at a young age and follow suit.

It is true that we do not NEED dairy products. We don’t NEED any particular food as we require a balanced diet, humans are considered to be omnivores as we eat meat, fruit and vegetables. The only thing we NEED to survive is water. However, dairy products offer a variety of really essential nutrients that aren’t readily available to us and contrastingly dairy alternatives contain far fewer of these essential nutrients and are often associated with much higher production and environmental costs.

5. Milk is naturally red due to the blood that gets into it from the cow and then it is made white by the farmers ready for retail. – wrong. This is one of the most obscured misconceptions that I have heard. This myth came about after a photo showing a jar of milk in a parlour which appeared to stained with blood. This photo was circulated on social media by anti-dairy activists and given the fact that the vast majority of these people and the general public, will never have seen a cow being milked or experienced the milking process it is easy to see how some believed that this was the truth.

The truth of the matter is that this milk was most likely from a cow suffering from mastitis or another issue. These cows still need milking but the milk is diverted into a separate tank to ensure it doesn’t contaminate the ‘good’ milk which could then be potentially harmful to us. The ‘bad’ milk is then poured down the drain but sometimes (most likely in the case of the photo) it is kept for investigation or testing to try and find out what is wrong with the cow producing that milk and subsequently what the correct method of treatment would be to help aid a speedy and healthy recovery.

6. Cows don’t need to be milked.  – wrong. Like all mammals, cows produce milk when they are pregnant. Activists claim that if dairy farmers didn’t take calves away from their mothers, we wouldn’t need to milk them as they would only produce as much as the calf needs and once weaned the mother would no longer produce milk. The truth of that is, if we just suddenly stopped taking calves away from their mothers and left them together, the mother would more than likely contract mastitis or other infections due to the rate her body is producing milk which is quicker than the calf would consume it. Mastitis is extremely painful. Many human mothers will experience mastitis during breast feeding for similar reasons or once they have stopped breast feeding. I am sure those of you who have experienced it (I am yet to have the pleasure) will agree with the cows when we say it is painful.

Cows are milked twice a day on traditional herringbone or rotary parlours. Milkings are normally spread out evenly over a 24 hour period. Timings depend on a number of things; stage of lactation and milk yields and this varies from farm to farm. I know from experience that cows udders get extremely sore and tender if they aren’t milked twice a day and their udders look fit to burst first thing in the mornings.  However in robotic parlours cows have been seen to voluntarily choose to be milked up to 5 times a day.

You couldn’t just stop milking like that as activists claim. It would result in huge health implications for many dairy cows and many would most likely die as a result. 

7. Cows are raped by dairy farmers during the artificial insemination process. – wrong. The process of artificial insemination (AI) is completely painless and as minimally invasive as possible. Rape is an extremely emotive and powerful word for obvious reasons, when activists choose to describe the AI process as rape you automatically associate images of what we understand rape to be. Violating, painful and dominating.

It is true in that farmers cannot request ‘consent’ from their cows but AI has huge health benefits to the animals. It eradicates the risk of the bull harming the cow by putting strain on her hips during mating or from kick marks which are common = a welfare tick for the girls.

By using AI farmers can be sure that a cow is inseminated at the correct time for the individual. A cow’s individual health, welfare and biology all come into play when inseminating. Living in a herd the cycles are similar and AI normally takes place over a number of sessions where cows who are ready are identified and then inseminated, it is an extremely quick process for each cow.

I think it is important to point out that #Februdairy is not just for dairy farmers, it is for everyone.

So even if you’re not a farmer you can still get involved. Take a picture of you drinking a glass of milk or your next coffee, making some yummy cakes with dairy products or if you do work/live on a dairy farm, take a picture of you milking or you with your favourite cow and tag #Februdairy to spread the positivity and show the real dairy image.

You can follow the dedicated Twitter account @februdairy  and tag them in your tweets, don’t forget to hash tag #Februdairy. On Instagram you can share images and hash tag #Februdairy. The Farmer’s Guardian suggests including facts and figures in your post to really drive home the message and to try and post a positive pro-dairy image/tweet each day throughout February. 

Until next time…

Lots of love,

Hollie-Ella Xxx

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