Saturday rant

So the debate about the UK’s first super dairy rumbles on. Politicians have now signed an early day motion against the proposed £50m, 8000-head unit in Lincolnshire, while environmental and animal welfare groups like the RSPCA say they’re ‘very concerned’ about the plans.

The British public has got its knickers in a twist over the whole thing too (warning: that’s a link to the D*ily M*il. Sorry, but the comments are worth looking at).

With so much negative feeling towards it, you’d think it’d be the perfect time for the farmers behind the Nocton super-dairy to talk to the public openly about their plans and address those concerns.

But what did the Nocton chaps do? They cancelled the public meeting and held a secret discussion for a few locals in a village hall. Yes, it meant they steered clear of the protestors, but from an outsiders point of view, didn’t that make it look like they had something to hide?

My feelings towards super dairies have changed since reading more about US versions and going to look around this 4000-herd one last week (there’s a terrible, mortifying version of this video on the Farmers Weekly site where I sound like I’m giving a commentary to a blue movie, so you can just have this silent version):

While I’m not necessarily behind this kind of system, it’s only through tours like this one  and talking to farmers that the public’s going to understand the industry and realise why it’s having to go down this ‘super production’ path. I’m not sure the farming sector can really criticise consumers for not realising how food’s produced unless it gets better at communicating with them – even if that means getting into a few good debates along the way.

Sorry, that was a bit ranty for a Saturday afternoon. I’ll talk about dogs in hats or something next time.

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3 Responses to “Saturday rant”

  1. Rob

    The thing that makes the CA dairy different is the open space, walking to the parlor and the human interaction. The cows are inspected twice a day and handled with affection by the stockmen. I’m not sure the public is ready for the fully factory version, or me for that matter.

  2. john Tims

    Discovering that you had visited the US dairy and changed your opinion somewhat was interesting. Just like meeting someone in the village pub and explaining that, yes, cows are milked EVERY day, twice a day.
    It just shows how disconnected people are from the reality of dairy farming, and indeed you journalists, when we all have to explain that this is pretty much how it is for your average 200 cow herd in Britain.
    You will now run a nice piece on how much more profit some family farm is making through the implementation of excactly the same practices that this big herd is going to use and no-one will table an early day motion against them.

  3. Caroline Stocks

    I understand what you mean – few consumers understand the realities of milk production and there’s nothing at all to suggest a larger herd is going to mean worse standards of welfare etc. In fact, any super dairy in the UK would come under so much scrutiny that the standards are very likely to be impeccable, whereas I’ve been to some really grotty, small family farms in my time.

    I had been pretty much pro-huge dairies before visiting the farm in Pennsylvania, but there was something slightly unnerving about the complete lack of human contact and the way it felt as thought the cows were housed in an air-craft hanger. Like the ones I linked to above, I’ve been to other super dairies in California that felt much airier and more ‘natural’ for the cows (looking at the Nocton plans it seems as though this is the kind of system they would use there).

    Having said that, the yields were good at the Penn dairy, the cows seemed happy and the guys who owned it had done so much research into herd health and welfare that it’s probably just my own perceptions of what dairy farming should be like that stops me from being comfortable with it…