From: Lorna Howarth, The Ecologist, More from this Affiliate
Published May 24, 2013 06:17 AM

Free Range Milk?

Free-Range Dairy is a new initiative that could reverse the trend towards industrialised mega-farms.

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The Ecologist office is set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty within a United Nations Biosphere Reserve. Hartland peninsular is dotted with steep, wooded valleys where bluebells, early purple orchids and woodpeckers abound.The hills afford breathtaking views across the Bristol channel to Lundy Island, itself a nature reserve with a no-fish zone that is having a beneficial effect on marine ecology, and looking south-west down to Cornwall, on a clear day, one can see to Boscastle and Bodmin moor beyond.

But something is missing from this bucolic scene - one notices it first whilst walking the country lanes on a warm spring evening. There is no rhythmic munching of grass on the other side of the hedge; no bovine belching or contented sighing as the cows enjoy the sun on their backs after a long winter in the cattle yard. For here in Hartland, as elsewhere in the country, the trend is towards carbon-intensive, 'industrialised' farming where huge herds of 1,000 cows or more are kept indoors all year long, with only a concrete yard for exercise.

Undoubtedly, farmers have been squeezed into such 'economies of scale' by supermarkets that offer minimal profit margins and demand a uniform product; and also by the growing dominance of agro-technology that drives towards bigger, mechanised farms, but there are serious reservations about the long-term sustainability of this farming model.

One of the primary concerns of industrial-scale farming is that of animal welfare. When cows are confined in large numbers, bedded on sand, and forced into an unnatural feeding regime, their behaviour often changes which can lead to stress symptoms and ill-health. Cows farmed in this way are more likely than their pasture-based cousins to be lame and suffer from debilitating mastitis. As a result, the routine use of antibiotics in animal feed has become a cause for concern, specifically regarding antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are excreted and transferred to slurry lagoons.

Dairy cows in rural England via Shutterstock.

Read more at ENN Affiliate, The Ecologist.

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