A feature on Sunday’s BBC Countryfile programme comparing all-year-round housing systems for dairy cows with ‘Free Range Milk’ has reignited the national debate about indoor housing.
Countryfile presenter Charlotte Smith said, despite the public image of cows grazing in fields, ‘up to a fifth’ of the milk produced in the UK comes from cows that ‘do not graze in fields at all’ but are kept inside all-year-round.
The programme featured Somerset farmer Neil Baker, described as ‘one of the first farmers in Britain to start rearing his herd indoors on this scale’.
Asked if he worried about keeping his livestock inside, Mr Baker replied: “No, not all. We need to do the best for them with their feeding, their health, their veterinary care."
He outlined how the farm’s housing was designed to provide the cows with a comfortable, lying area, plenty of food and water and ‘nice wide passage ways. The aim was to ‘provide an environment where the cows can behave as naturally as they can’, he said.
He said: “We are not hiding away, it is not a dirty secret. I don’t think it matters whether a cow is in a barn or outside. Cows don’t have some imagination of where they want to live. I personally think my cows are happy. Their happiness comes from being looked after and feeling safe.”
He said: “I don’t think it matters whether a cow is in a barn or outside. I personally think my cows are happy. Their happiness comes from being looked after and feeling safe.”
Neil Darwent, a former Somerset farmer who was driving force behind ‘Free Range Dairy’, was also featured.
He said ‘Free Range Milk’ was based on a commitment by farmers to graze their cattle outdoors for six months, with the aim of providing freedom for cows to graze, a premium for farmers by instilling value in milk and more choice for consumers.
“We are not out to criticise anybody but if we are to avoid milk becoming nothing more than a cheap, white water commodity we have to be able to differentiate milk and for me that is about differentiating the way we farm,” he said.
"Most people think their milk comes from cows in fields but, increasingly, less and less does and we want people to be able to make a choice."
Highlighting the current difficulties dairy farmers faced in getting value for their milk, he added: "If we can instil some value in that milk we believe we caqn command a bigger premium."
The feature prompted a big response on social media with some people vehemently expressing outrage at the concept of indoor housing, while others voiced their support for Mr Baker.
#countryfile intensive battery cow farming! Label our milk. I don't want to drink such milk ever! Barbaric practice!— Stevie Marsh (@MarshStevie)
This indoor farmer can put all the spin he wants on it, but keeping dairy cattle indoors all year is like keeping battery hens #Countryfile— Dorina (@Dorina335)
had to leave the room watching #countryfile intensive dairy farming doesn't sit well with me. Unnatural & mean I'd rather pay more 4 🍼— emma geldart (@elgeldart)
Thank you to everyone for joining in the discussion tonight on dairy production #Countyfile. We'll come back to the subject later in the yr.— BBC Countryfile (@BBCCountryfile)