Farming Thinking

How Dairy Farming Is Becoming More Ethical

10th December 2018

Dairy cows at Horton House Farm

The explosive growth of veganism has brought the dairy industry into the spotlight more than ever before. And there’s no doubt that aspects of conventional dairy farming systems can be polarising for conscious eaters.

Over many decades, Britain’s grass-grazed dairy herds have been replaced by dairy cow factories with mega-sheds, robotic machinery, and carefully selected protein diets. A modern dairy cow now produces twice as much milk as it did in 1970. And one in five cows never see the light of day. 

The dark underbelly of the dairy industry has been the fate of male bull calves. Veal is an unpopular meat in the UK so farmers either euthanise the male calves at birth of export them to Europe in terrible conditions. You don’t have to be a vegan activist to understand that either of these outcomes is incredibly unfair on the animal.

The good news is that some creative dairy farmers are setting new standards for the ethical treatment of their calves. By keeping newborn male and female calves together with the herd to suckle naturally until they are ready to wean, these farmers are maintaining a social bond between young and old. They’re also keeping calves on a natural diet of milk rather than powdered substitutes which are typical on mainstream dairy farms. This new ‘cow with calf’ system is being led by the Pasture for Life Association who want to develop it to a commercial scale.

Horton House is one such dairy farm pioneering the ‘cow with calf’ system. Horton have a 400-strong dairy herd, milked once a day, and given three months off a year to recover. The farm’s incredibly high-welfare standards are reflected in their veterinary bills, which per litre are less than half of a factory-farmed system.

Calves remain on Horton House Farm their whole lives. Female and male calves will suckle naturally on milk until weaning age. And bull calves have a chance at life, staying on the farm until at least eight months of age before they travel to a family-run organic slaughterhouse and sold as pasture-fed veal. The texture of this veal is not as pale or mildly flavoured as produced in Europe, which is to all intents and purposes is still intensively farmed.

Veal has never had a particularly good reputation and largely for good reason. But if more dairy farmers introduced the ‘cow with calf’ system then it might be better for everyone if we developed a taste for it. 

Farmdrop is selling various cuts from Horton House Farm and are available to buy here.

Read more here on how dairy industry billy goats can provide a sustainable, ethical meat alternative.


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