First of all, a huge thank you to everyone who has donated to our crowdfunder and to everyone who has shared our campaign video. In just over a week we have raised an incredible 22% of our total! We are a little overwhelmed by your messages of support in particular. Thank you for believing in us.
This is a very quick blog to answer a few questions that have cropped up over the past week.
Q1. If your approach to farming is economically viable, why are you crowdfunding?
Before we committed to this cow with calf farming approach our system was scrutinised by independent advisors. On the financial modelling that they did the numbers stack up. We trust the numbers will prove accurate in the long term. But that modelling also showed that it will take us three years to move into profit, and a further three years to recoup our losses. In the meantime there are cashflow considerations. The main reason for the crowdfunder is to assist with some of these short term cash issues. There are huge costs associated with transitioning a farm to any new system, and there are capital investment costs associated with diversifying a business. Additional reasons why we are crowdfunding is that members of the public have asked for a way to directly support the work we are doing, and we also recognise the value of crowdfunding as a way to raise awareness as well as to raise money.
Q2. Did you launch the crowdfunder because of the BBC’s Dark Side of Dairy programme?
No. We realised over the summer months that the ‘ethical investors’ we had been hoping for were not materialising, and we gave ourselves a deadline of end of August before we explored other options. We had crowdfunding at the back of our mind throughout the summer. We were down in London for 10 days taking part in a major food trade show, meeting members of the media to try to capitalise on the Soil Association’s fantastic Organic September campaign and also taking part in Go Organic, a food festival in Battersea Park.
We decided to launch our crowdfunder to coincide with the Go Organic festival at which we were handing out leaflets (see header image above) about the campaign. We planned to run the crowdfunder for 8 weeks in order to coincide with the start of autumn calving, towards the end of October. This is because we hope to do some interesting things during calving to show our system in more detail. More on this soon.
On the evening of the documentary being screened we were hosting an information event and meal in London, along with our friends Peelham Farm, where we met with chefs, retail buyers and members of the media. All our Organic September plans, including the crowdfunder, were organised well in advance of us being told the broadcast date for the documentary. That it all happened on the same weekend was coincidence not design.
Q3. Is the way you run your farm a gimmick? Surely it can only be done small scale.
We have been working towards cow with calf dairy farming for almost a decade. When we built a new dairy shed, a project we started in 2010, we designed it with the calves in mind. Animal welfare is not the main reason we are doing this, although high standards and respect for animal sentience are important considerations.
Over the past 10 years we have been developing elements of a food production model on the farm that attempts to address the challenges of sustainable food from a dairy-based system. The model uses a mix of agroecology, agroforestry and agro-technology approaches that cut waste, facilitate natural processes and reduce our dependence on external inputs, following the principles of ‘lean production’. We want to prove that you can be respectful of people, animals and the planet while still producing enough nutritious food. We have set ourselves the challenge of proving that cow with calf, low input dairy farming can be done at scale. We are actively seeking a way to get independent researchers to assess our system to prove, or not, whether it can be replicated more widely at scale.
Q4. Is calling yourself ‘ethical’ a marketing stunt?
No. The word ethical came from visitors to Cream o’ Galloway, where we have been hosting near daily farm tours for around 18 years. It is the questions from our visitors that are largely responsible for us questioning industry norms. ‘Why do you separate the calves from their mums?’ was one of the most frequently asked questions on our tours. Which prompted us to explore ‘what would happen if we didn’t?’. We have been talking about this system with visitors to our farm for about five years now. It is they who started to describe what we do as ‘ethical’. We were looking for a way to explain the totality of what we do, including the social and environmental aspects. That’s where the name came from.
Q5. What do you do with your male calves?
Our male calves stay on the farm in their peer groups and will eventually become beef. We have explained our system of farming in this blog post, including explaining in detail what happens to the male calves and at what stage. We will be adding to this post as other questions arise so that we have a full explanation of our system in one place. If you have any other questions about our farming system that you would like explained please contact us and we will add to the blog.
Q6. Are you slaughter free?
No. Our goal is to produce food sustainably and affordably from land that could not otherwise be used for arable crops, while providing a good quality of life for our animals and good working conditions for our employees. If you are interested in slaughter free dairy we recommend ahimsa milk.
Q7. Where can I buy your milk?
At the moment we do not sell fresh milk. There are several reasons for this, not least the practicalities of packing and distributing the quantity of milk that we produce. Given that we are very remote from any cities, it is much more practical from a logistical point of view for us to turn our milk into cheese (and ice cream) and distribute that.
Q8. Why are you being attacked by vegans?
If you have been on our facebook page recently you will have seen an influx of posts from vegan activists. If you have commented on our posts you might have found yourself addressed directly by them. From what we can see there appears to be a small group of organised vegan fundamentalists who are targeting our social media pages.
We want to stress that these fundamentalists represent only a small proportion of vegan people. We are not anti-vegan, and we would ask that everyone who posts on our page respects other peoples’ dietary choices.
We appreciate and understand the compassion that can lead people towards adopting a vegan lifestyle. Several of our customers are vegans who buy our cheese for family members. We have received several crowdfunding donations from people who are vegans. We know that a large number of the people who connect with us on social media follow predominantly plant based diets and we have received many, many messages of support from vegans in response to the attacks in recent days.
We appreciate that high welfare livestock farming is, for some vegan activists, an oxymoron, and that some even believe high welfare farming is damaging to their vegan cause. We are not doing this to remove vegan ammunition against the farming industry, and we acknowledge that our approach to farming will never be acceptable or ethical to those who are fundamentally opposed to livestock farming.
We respectfully invite anyone who is fundamentally opposed to any livestock farming to simply ignore us.