Dairy Farming... Doing things a Different Way


Vetstream’s Livestock Advisor, Ruth Clark, couldn’t resist visiting a dairy herd, even whilst on holiday! Here’s what Ruth had to say after visiting The Calf at Foot Dairy with her sons...
“I had heard of The Calf at Foot Dairy (CAFD) and was interested to find out more, so when I realised that we were camping only a few minutes away, I decided to drop in and say hello!

Set up in 2012 by Fiona Provan (daughter of a farm vet), the CAFD is a little bit different to most dairy enterprises. Fiona explained that she decided to launch the CAFD due to her frustration with the poor cow welfare, combined with environmental damage, that she had experienced on other farms. The CAFD is founded on the principle of compassion before profit and is a micro-dairy producing raw milk from pasture-fed cows. The milk is delivered directly to consumers all over the UK. Their herd of twenty Jerseys and Jersey x red poll cows are all much loved individuals who answer to their names and come in one at a time (with their calf at foot) to be milked.

There are many similarities to traditional small dairy enterprises: the cows are inseminated by either bull or by AI, calves are disbudded and castrated, hours are long, the work is hard and there is always paperwork to be completed!

Despite being in a low risk TB area, they have to TB test every year, as they are raw milk producers. Fiona reports very few lameness issues and rarely requires a foot trimmer. As a pasture-based regenerative system, ruminal acidosis is not an issue for this farm, but Fiona does discuss that keeping the Jersey cows in good body condition score without resort to concentrate feeds can be a challenge. Good pasture management is essential but she is also looking into genetic solutions to this issue and hopes that by introducing Red Poll strains into the herd, this will produce cows better able to thrive and produce enough milk on this grass based system.

The major difference between this and many other small dairies is that all calves are kept with their mothers until their natural weaning age. Fiona explains that for most calves this is around six to nine months of age, but that the exact procedure varies depending on the individual cow and calf. Male calves are then fattened for beef and most are slaughtered at two years of age. Female calves are raised as replacement heifers. Cows are only put in calf once every two years; to give their bodies time to recover between pregnancies. The dairy only takes excess milk that the calves don’t need and cows are only milked once per day. For this reason, they produce only a fraction of the milk volume that a conventional dairy would produce. This, along with the other challenges of being such a small business, means they have to charge a premium price for their milk. Supermarket prices for a litre of milk are approximately 85ppl, whereas a litre of milk from the CAFD is £3 per litre. With the current trend for natural, ethical, welfare and environmentally friendly products, Fiona hopes that this niche market will continue to grow and be a long-term profitable enterprise. It is hard not to be impressed by Fiona, and her team’s, dedication and clear love for the animals under their care and it certainly takes courage and hard work to set up such a venture from scratch and try to do something a little bit differently. I can also verify that their creamy milk is delicious! “

To find out more, contact Fiona Provan via www.the-calf-at-foot-dairy.co.uk.

Image Courtesy of CAFD