Cows grazing on a sunny farm field

The Farming Revolution That Aims to Bring Free-Range Milk to Britain

Smallholders hope to reverse years of dairy industry decline with a return to cows grazing in the great outdoors

March 11, 2017 | Source: The Guardian | by Dan Glaister

Smallholders hope to reverse years of dairy industry decline with a return to cows grazing in the great outdoors

This is a story that is almost as rare as a free-range cow: a good news story about the British dairy industry.

This month, Jenni and Jerry Hobbs will swing open the gates to the yard of their modest farmhouse in Gloucestershire, shout a few words of encouragement and watch as their herd of brown Swiss, Friesians, Fleckviehs and the rest, big eyes blinking as they survey the expanse of grass before them, buck and cavort their way out to pasture.

These 200 cows will then spend at least the next six months grazing the 300 acres around Barhouse farm, in the village of Elmore, near Stroud, going inside only to be milked. As natural as it sounds, they are the exception in the milk production industry, where 20% of cattle never see the sky.

These are free-range cows – cows whose owners have pledged to graze them outdoors for at least 180 days a year. This is to produce what many of the small farmers who make up the backbone of Britain’s broken dairy industry hope might help them break the cycle of ever-lower prices and ever-bigger farms: free-range milk.

“I came to this because I was fed up with the lack of value given to milk,” says Neil Darwent, who set up Free Range Dairy in 2014. “We need a milk revolution. Most people think all cows live in fields. This is about change, about the way things are done. It’s about terroir. Provenance has been lost, the story of milk has been lost. Not all milk is the same and we need consumers to recognise that.”

Free Range Dairy’s most noticed innovation has been a piece of branding: the Pasture Promise label, guaranteeing that the milk comes from cows that have grazed outdoors for the minimum six months. This month Asda agreed to initially stock Free Range Dairy farmers milk in 109 of its stores.