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The Ethical Dairy

Solway Coast, South West Scotland

The first commercial dairy in the UK to be following the cow with calf method, demonstrating that cow with calf dairy farming is viable and sustainable.

The Finlay family have been farming in southwest Scotland since the mid 18th century. After experiencing feelings of dismay towards the food system — in terms of the growing issues of environmental degradation, resource depletion, agri-chemical misuse, animal welfare, food affordability and food security — the family moved towards a radical farming model.

In the winter of 2012, the Finlays undertook a six month cow-with-calf pilot at Rainton Farm, Kirkcudbrightshire: an organic farm of 830 acres with 130 dairy cows. The findings from the pilot demonstrated that, after modifications to the management and farm infrastructure, a viable cow-with-calf model could be introduced following a three year transition period.

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To produce milk, a cow must have a calf every year. However, in commercial dairying systems, calves are taken away from their mothers within 24 hours of birth — a process which can cause significant distress to both the calves and their mothers. Additionally, the lives of these animals are often cut short — with male calves being shot at birth (due to lacking in commercial value) and dairy cows being shot at the end of their productive life (due to being unfit for the human food chain).
Steps have been made by some European organic farms — where cow-with-calf dairying involves the calves staying with their mothers until they are three months of age. However, at three months, the cow-calf bond is still very strong and therefore separating the animals can lead to significant post-weaning distress.

After receiving investment from sankalpa for the transitional costs of moving to a calf-at-foot dairying model, the Finlays now run the first commercial dairy in the UK to be following the cow with calf method.

In partnership with Peelham FarmWhitmuir Organic and Mossgiel Farm — The Ethical Dairy held the first known ‘ethical farming sector' conference in May 2019. The Ethical Farming Conference, opened by Mairi Gougeon, Scottish government minister for rural affairs and the natural environment — attracted 200 farmers, researchers, academics and students from Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland, the USA and from across the UK.

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Our driver is to push at the boundaries of the accepted norm in search of a more sustainable food production system, with which we are comfortable. sankalpa shared our vision and took the risk of providing that critical support for what is now being seen as ground-breaking and very relevant, research and development in dairy welfare.

David Finlay, The Ethical Dairy
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