Friday, 18 September 2015

Dairy Faming

Our small (90 acres) farm here in the Yorkshire Dales was, until the Foot and Mouth outbreak, a Dairy Farm.   We milked around seventy Freisian/Holstein cows and made a reasonable living from them.

We were unlucky enough to actually have Foot and Mouth here on our farm; all our cattle had been milked in the morning and by evening milking time they had all been killed, as had a hundred or so pedigree Swaledale sheep we were keeping for another farmer.

It was a tough time; but we got through it and came out the other side having been supported by some good people and having decided that, considering the farmer's age, we would not go back into milk production.   We now let out most of our land and also cattle and sheep keep for other farming friends.

But since those days the bottom has really dropped out of the Dairy Industry. This is traditionally an area where the farms are relatively small and mostly kept by one man - with sheep and/or cattle (milk or suckler herds) and maybe supplemented by hens or poultry for the Christmas market.    But now all that has changed.

As farmers have died off (the average age for a farmer up here is sixty-ish) so farms have been sold and incorporated into other farms so that now, around us here, there are some large dairy farms milking large numbers of cows.

But the world dairy market has been depressed so that even with these larger herds many farmers have found themselves in the position where outlay has cost more than the milk prices were bringing into the farming economy.

This week has seen the first signs of a recovery.   The Global Dairy Trade auction (GDT) brought an increase of 16.5 per cent so that now prices are at their highest since April.

At least this year has been an exceptional year for silage crops - large quantites and good quality, which means that the cattle should milk well over the winter.  And of course farmers will not have to buy in so much winter food.

Anyone who has witnessed the demonstrations by farmers throughout Europe knows that there is a feeling of desperation there.   And when I see that milk is often a loss leader in supermarkets, where it is priced as low as £1 for two litres in some instances, I do despair of ever seeing farmers making a decent living.   I think the farmer is well-pleased that he is out of front line farming now.

Where things will go in the future is anybody's guess, but I do hope it doesn't go the way I saw on the television the other day where very large herds of cows are kept indoors, principally as milking machines - all their needs are catered for,  but they never get out into the sunshine and the fresh air.   Anyone who has been close to cows will know that even on the coldest day of the year, if there is a bit of sunshine and the farmer accidentally leaves a door in the inside shed open for a second the whole herd is off down the pasture, tails flying, free as birds and enjoying every minute of it.   Don't let us ever deprive them of that.

19 comments:

Mac n' Janet said...

I've always felt that farming in any form is a hard life, being at the mercy of things you can't control--prices, weather,etc.

Wilma said...

What a heartbreak it must have been to lose your herd like that. I know from my dairy farming friends in Minnesota that dairy farming is hard work that never ends. I hate the thought of dairy cows kept indoors; hope that does not become a widespread trend.

Terry and Linda said...

The diary world is very depressed here also. Also, prices for farming (like we do) have crashed and burned...it's another reason Terry is ready to get out of the daily farm routine. The cost of farming is huge and keeps taking giants steps in raising the cost to the farmer. The price of corn is horrible, pinto beans are flat and hay is $4 a bale, when it costs $7 to raise it.

I so understand.

Linda
http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

donna baker said...

Milk has to be pasteurized in the US, which some people thinks harms the quality. Maybe the dairy farmers need to advertise artisinal milk, pasture grown and fed and organic. There is a farmer in the city who brings his milk products in without pasteurizing it and he has quite a following. He just can't sell it in stores, but takes orders. Most farming in America has become a big agri-business with smaller farms having to find new ways to promote their food etc. I know Whole Foods sells products that say pasture raised on the packaging. Guess if we all requested it they would change.

Countryside Tales said...

It is a disgrace that milk is sold so cheaply in supermarkets. Can't bear the thought of cattle kept indoors all their lives either. It must have been desperately sad for you losing all the cattle in one go like that. Heart breaking.

Heather said...

I have no connections with farming but hated seeing our countryside empty of sheep and cattle during those awful Foot and Mouth months and years. The heartbreak for farmers must have been terrible. I would happily pay more for milk and can't understand how the current situation has come to pass. Someone is making a nice profit but it isn't the man or woman who does all the hard work.

Terra said...

The small farms with cows allowed outside to ramble, and one owner keeping them is SO much better than the factory farms! With your farmers aging and little profit in it, I can see how that is not attracting young people. Small farming is such a good way of life, I hope it continues.

Dawn McHugh said...

It all makes me sad just so sad :-(

Kristi in the Western Reserve said...

Amen!

thelma said...

I hope there is a big enough movement to stop the industrialisation of farming cows in large barns, and never allowing them to roam freely in the fields. As for the price of milk, it is terrible that supermarkets sell it so cheaply. The customers can't even pay the proper price if they wanted to..

Joanne Noragon said...

I wonder if we can ever turn back on a large scale. It's relatively easy for we who can reach farmer markets and niche farm products to ask for and get organic products. We are so few, people who do not and will not care tip us completely off the scale. Ohio isn't home to an enclosed dairy operation (as far as I know), but I've seen them from the highway in other states. Huge waste lagoons. I am sorry for the animals. I don't eat beef, I don't drink milk and that's my entire contribution to changing the dairy industry.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Donna - milk is also pasteurised here in the UK and most of that sold in supermarkets is pasteurised. There are some small organic units but not many.
Glad to see that most people agree with me about the state of dairy farming.

Barbara Womack said...

I cannot begin to imagine how devastating the hoof and mouth outbreak was. And, I can only stand in awe that you were able to pick up and go on. I honestly don’t think I could have done that.
The state of farming in this part of the US sounds much like that in your area. The average age for farmers is something like 58.5. And, rising costs of land and infrastructure are keeping young people from getting in, despite the increase in Ag degrees across the country. There are a lot of small, artisanal farms popping up, but these don’t generally last long as this way of life can be so demanding and unpredictable and the niche market is so small and fickle.
People are used to (and in some cases dependent upon) cheap food. Small operations (like ours) can only grow so much and our input costs are higher, requiring more from the consumer. Then there is the whole issue of labor. It is incredibly difficult to find people willing to work so hard for so little and commit to it long-term. Locally, land prices are so high that when farmers do retire, the only ones who can afford the land are developers who are looking to put in more neighborhoods.
The issues surrounding farming are complex and divisive. I honestly don’t know what the answer is. There are a lot of people in this world who need food and other farm products.
But, I agree that dairy cows do indeed seem to love the outdoors. And, there is no finer sight than well-cared for cows on fresh grass!

Bovey Belle said...

I am so sorry to hear that your farm suffered from Foot and Mouth. I cannot imagine anything more heartbreaking. I agree with you about cattle needing to graze and just be . . . cows . . . rather than purely as milking machines (shades of the Archers plotlines in this).

There's a farm down towards the A40 which has a few beautiful Jersey cattle (less than 20 - this little herd started off as a pet heifer calf for the son!) As we drove past today, two of the yearling calves were hurtling down the field, tails up and over their backs and those babies were SO happy to be out in the sunshine having fun.

Bovey Belle said...

P.S. As for the price of milk, I agree that Supermarkets shouldn't be allowed to sell it as a loss leader, and they should also pay sufficient a sum to guarantee the farmer a profit on his milk and outlay.

Penny said...

I can't imagine how terrible the foot and mouth outbreak was. The price of milk is making us wonder how much longer we can stay on the farm, droughts and poor prices means that the bank is looming over us. Where once our whole valley was dairy farms there are now 3, us our son and one other. We don't house our cattle.

Virginia said...

The ONLY way we can stop that, as 'mere consumers' is by consistently refusing to buy anything other than humanely farmed products - even if it means we go without a product, or eat less of it. I made that decision for my family ("she who shops gets to choose what is eaten"!) so, it's free range chicken (or no chicken) free range pork and bacon (or do without) whole product milk (no permates or other additives) free range eggs, and only sustainable caught fish... and read those tin labels! Yes, we eat more vegetables (only locally grown - have you tasted chinese garlic - it's awful!) and I have to be flexible with my shopping list, but it is easily doable. I don't belong to lobby groups, but I have put messages in the supermarket feedback box - I wouldn't buy their cooked chooks for years, until finally they got the message and started cooking free-range ones, and (surprise, surprise!) now that sell a many as of the other kind!

We watched in dismay as you coped with Foot and Mouth over there, and feared for the NZ economy which is so heavily dependent upon primary industry. Fortunately we escaped it.

Cro Magnon said...

I have watched this decline here too. Nowadays it seems that milking is only profitable if the farmer is willing to 'add value' at source; i.e. make farmhouse cheese, yoghurt, etc.

Virginia (above) speaks a lot of common sense. Buy local, buy free range, and check those labels.

Derek Faulkner said...

Reading all of the comments above it is clear that all of us that have anything to do with the countryside support your views and hang onto the hope that the small farms that we grew up knowing can still exist in some form or other, but it does seem a fast disappearing dream.
Here on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent where I live, two thirds of the farmland is now owned by just two farmers and most of the large number of small farms from my youth have been swallowed up. Of the two, one is totally arable and the other is part arable and part beef cattle. A lot of the cattle, a 1000+ are grazed on the two major nature reserves here and they apparently sell for £800-£1,000 each so there is some money to be made. Before foot and mouth Sheppey had been famous for it's sheep for centuries, (the origin of it's name), now sheep are kept by just one small farmer and rarely total a 100+ ewes.