During the 1930s and 40s, David Findlay’s father, James, had a simple goal which was to produce food for a hungry population during the difficult years surrounding the Second World War. Milk from the dairy cows was used to produce farmhouse cheese, the leftover whey was given to the pigs reared for meat, and sheep made use of the grassy areas, less suited to cattle.
As time moved on farming and food production became more industrialised and intensive. Cheese production stopped in the 1970s as mass produced cheddar became more widely available, and the farm focused more on milk production.
In the 1990s David and Wilma Findlay started to diverge from the intensive direction of most dairy farmers. They decided to farm organically, and over the past twenty years they have explored new ways of producing food in a more ethical and sustainable way.
In 2013 they built a ground breaking new dairy, installed innovative renewable energy technology to generate electricity from farm waste, and embarked on a new way of dairy farming. One which lets the calves stay with their mothers, which dramatically reduces the stress on the cow and calf, improving their health.
The Findlays have de-intensified the farm which as David said, is almost the opposite of what is happening elsewhere in the industry. In traditional dairy farms calves are removed from their mothers within a few hours after birth and hand reared. The cow’s milk, except for the colostrum, ends up in the bulk tank. The aim is to produce as many gallons as possible, particularly at times when milk prices make dairy incomes marginal.
David and Wilma acknowledge that their ethical system is not perfect. They have far less milk to sell, but they are returning to cheese making, and have been producing ice cream for many years. Each calf consumes around £800 worth of milk from their mothers, but they remain healthy, require no anti-biotics, and the bull calves which enter the beef market, finish at least four months earlier than the traditional system.
Wilma said, “Our goal was to farm in a way that is resilient, ecologically sound and less stressful for the animals and the people working with them. We are seeing real benefits – longer living healthier cows, less antibiotic use, faster growing calves and less purchased feed.”
The interest in veganism, with campaigns like Veganuary becoming headline news, may be recent but planning at the Findlay’s revolutionary dairy farm began a long time ago. Customers of their award winning business, Cream o’ Galloway, a luxury ice cream brand, and visits to the family centre, have had ringside seats with regular farm tours and events explaining their change in approach.
Spare a thought for Vegans who must be shivering with cold. It seems that even electricity and gas have become morally repulsive to them after revelations that most of Britain’s biggest energy companies use animal by-products to generate power. As noted in the Sunday Times, the finding emerged after the Vegan Society was asked by an energy company, Ecotricity, if it could brand its power as vegan!
Most energy companies increasingly buy power generated by anaerobic digesters. These can convert farm slurry, animal-based food waste and slaughterhouse by-products, as well as plant material, into methane which is used to generate power.
Britain is now increasingly powered by livestock farming, causing a real dilemma for vegans. As Robbie Lockie, co-founder of Plant Based News said, “this energy can never be compatible with veganism.”
I shall resist sharing what my livestock farming friend, who sent me the article, suggested could also be put into anaerobic digesters!