The dairy farmer who refuses to separate calves from mothers to make world ‘a better place for cows’

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New Delhi, June 23, 2018: Her unusual approach to dairy farming won’t make Fiona Provan rich, but it makes her happy. By Serina Sandhu Fiona Provan is the first to admit she has fallen out with a lot of people. But the dairy farmer doesn’t seem to care. She is certain she is doing the right thing. “I’ve fallen out with the conventional [dairy farmers], I’ve fallen out with the vegans… I’m in the middle. So I get attacked.

” The 54-year-old runs The Calf at Foot Dairy, an ethical farm where 16 grass-fed, jersey cows are allowed to roam freely on Suffolk land. The most radical aspect of her business is the way Provan, unlike most traditional dairy farmers, allows calves to stay with their mothers until their natural weaning age. She says she pioneered this approach at a commercial level.

Her unusual approach to dairy farming won’t make Fiona Provan rich, but it makes her happy. By Serina Sandhu Fiona Provan is the first to admit she has fallen out with a lot of people. But the dairy farmer doesn’t seem to care. She is certain she is doing the right thing. “I’ve fallen out with the conventional [dairy farmers], I’ve fallen out with the vegans… I’m in the middle. So I get attacked.

” The 54-year-old runs The Calf at Foot Dairy, an ethical farm where 16 grass-fed, jersey cows are allowed to roam freely on Suffolk land. The most radical aspect of her business is the way Provan, unlike most traditional dairy farmers, allows calves to stay with their mothers until their natural weaning age. She says she pioneered this approach at a commercial level.

Replay Mute Loaded: 0%Progress: 0% -0:00 Fullscreen   At a conventional dairy farm calves are generally separated from their mothers within 24 hours of their birth. The approach substantially increases the amount of milk available for human consumption and proponents argue it can also reduce the chances of disease being transmitted from the dam to the calf. But the approach is opposed by animal rights groups because the separation is stressful for both the mother and the calf.

Studies suggest that calves reared by their mothers are likely to gain more weight, have better health and enjoy improved social behaviour. The RSPCA says there could also be health benefits for dams who stay with their offspring, including a reduction in the incidence of mastitis (inflammation of the mammary gland and udder tissue).

Lifelong love for cows Provan’s controversial approach to producing milk was born out of a lifelong love of cows. Her father was a vet specialising in cattle. “I just loved being around those cows… there’s something about them, their breathing. Their heart rate is slower and they’re warmer.” She credits the mammals with helping her deal with depression.

But her decision to allow her cows and calves to stay together as a herd has made her a target for dairy farmers who feel she is criticising their practices. She has also been attacked by some vegans who appreciate her ethical stance, but remain committed to ending animal agriculture. Provan, a resilient, outspoken woman, is unrepentant. She tells me she has “f**king laid into” those who question the way she farms. She has come close to becoming a vegan, she says, but believes that herbivores like her cows are a vital part of Britain’s ecosystem. Milk and meat for that matter can be produced kindly, she says. Her aim is to “make the world a better place for dairy cows”.

‘Cruel to the mother’ “When they’re separated, so the farmer can have all the milk to sell for us to drink, that’s not right. It’s unnatural, it’s cruel to the mother… you’re drinking milk from a depressed, grieving animal and that doesn’t sit right according to inews.co.uk.

The mother-of-three says her approach to dairy farming was also shaped by her maternal instinct. Women farmers simply wouldn’t take calves from their mothers, she says.

“If women were in charge it would never have come to this. Women aren’t so greedy naturally, are they? They’re not egotistical, they’re not territorial… men want more and more cows, more and more land,” she says. “I know we have to bring it back to this,” she says, gesturing to the fields of her female-run farm. Provan knew from an early age she wanted to work with cows, but she ended up in the catering trade.

“It’s all sh*t, fast food, stuff comes from packets,” she says. “You just make it look fancy on a plate.” About 10 years ago – after learning the ropes at her former partner’s farm – she bought a few house cows and began selling ‘raw’ or un-pasturised milkshakes from a burger van.

The demand was remarkable. By 2012 she had established the Calf at Foot Dairy and nowadays she is a tenant farmer at Home Farm in Somerleyton. Heavy cost Her decision to allow calves to have first dibs at their mother’s milk comes at a heavy cost.

She produces a fraction of the milk extracted by big dairies – just 70 litres a day in contrast to the thousands of litres that flow from the mega farms. While her ‘raw’ milk is thick and creamy and sells for a premium – £3 a litre – she struggles financially. But no amount of profit could make her turn to conventional dairy farming. She wants nothing to do with it. She reiterates that she is determined to keep her business afloat to prove there is another way of dairy farming. It may take her a while but her goal is to eventually buy her own farm. At one point she becomes very emotional and tears up:

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I had children but this keeps me alive,” she adds. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this. This has just got to work.”

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