Ethical dairy farming and the raw milk of human kindess
- Credit: Archant
Fierce and passionate Fiona Provan, who owns The Calf at Foot Dairy on the Suffolk/Norfolk border on the Somerleyton Estate, is trying to change dairy farming
“It’s difficult being a female farmer. If women were still the farmers, farming would be different. You don’t have to push animals so hard. There wouldn’t be any of this industrialisation; the cruelty, the chemicals. When I go to a supermarket, that’s what I see: aisles full of chemicals.”
Fierce and passionate Fiona Provan, who owns The Calf at Foot Dairy on the Suffolk/Norfolk border on the Somerleyton Estate, is trying to change dairy farming. When I visited her ‘parlour’, an airy wooden barn with chandeliers, sofas and book shelves, in a sunlit corner, one of her ‘dairy angels’, volunteer Amy, was milking a cow whose tail lashed her softly in the face. The Dairy has around thirty cows, Jerseys and Red Polls. Each cow, worth around £500 each, has a name - Lily, Thistle, Dottie, Tess, Bluebell - and a strong personality.
Fiona explains her route into farming: “My dad, a vet, told me: ‘You can’t farm, there’s no money in it’. But I don’t do it for the money. I do it so I can sleep at night. At 16 I left school and started as a stockman on a dairy farm. Women always make the best stockmen. They have the eye. When humans first started farming it was the women that did it, the men were out hunting. At 22 I got married and was given a house cow by my father, a Jersey. I was campaigning for animal rights but when I became a mother, I decided I must start an ethical dairy. I couldn’t drink milk until I did.”
Provan says most don’t realise cow milk is mother’s milk: “I had a woman in here with a babe in arms. She was shocked when she realised that commercial milk is a result of taking calves away from their mothers. At last people are beginning to care. My aim before I die is to create a movement. I want other people to start ethical dairies.”
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In industrial dairies calves are removed at an early age and fed milk replacers. The cows are forced into pregnancy and lactation at 18 months rather than two. This is repeated quickly, forcing the pace rather than allowing the cows to get pregnant at a healthy rhythm. Industrial cows rarely live past five years old, having suffered three ‘rotations’ (pregnancy and lactation). They are given antibiotics to prevent illness, which comes through into the milk.
In ethical dairies, the cows keep their calves, feeding them for at least 9 months, only excess milk is taken, they are untethered as they are milked and don’t get pregnant every year - only when they are ready. As a result, they often live until 12 and are not culled once they have outlived milking. Their feed is also better for the environment: grass rather than water-guzzling grain.
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The United Kingdom has a huge per capita consumption of cow’s milk, and as a chef and food writer I’m interested in raw milk; unpasteurised, non-homogenised direct from the cow. It contains nutrients such as vitamin C, which is reduced by heat treatments and is referred to as ‘white blood’ because it contains living white blood cells. It contains a ‘creamline’, where you can see the difference between milk and cream, which rises to the top.
In many countries it is illegal to sell raw milk: and although legal in England most of our milk is pasteurised, a process of heating the milk and cooling it to eliminate bacteria. Flash pasteurisation means tmilk will last up to 3 weeks. Homogenisation is the process of breaking down fat globules in milk until they are tiny, thereby resisting separation. Most US and European milk is both pasteurised and homogenised. This is why it’s impossible to get a decent cup of tea anywhere but in the UK.
Raw milk has a fuller, fattier, more complex flavour. Unprocessed, nutritious, it contains good cholesterol and alleviates allergies such as eczema and hay fever. Many people who are lactose intolerant can often tolerate raw milk although there is still a small risk of e coli, salmonella, TB and listeria.
(Makes 1 large ball)
Large lidded stainless steel pan
Fine stainless steel sieve
1 glass bowl
Plastic gloves or stainless steel slotted spoon
2.25 litres raw or only lightly pasteurised milk (not supermarket milk)
1 tsp citric acid dissolved in 25ml mineral water (not tap water)
1/2 tsp liquid rennet dissolved in 25ml mineral water
1-2 tsp sea salt
Put citric acid and the milk in the large pan. Heat to 31ºC, then remove from the heat and add the rennet. Stir for 20 seconds, put on the lid and leave for 20 minutes.
Cut the curds in 3cm squares.
Heat up the pan to 42ºC, stirring gently.
Turn off the heat and leave for 20 minutes.
Drain the curds into the sieve, leave for 15 minutes.
Scoop the curds into the glass bowl.
Put the curd bowl into the microwave for 30 seconds.
Put on the gloves or, using the slotted spoon, gently press the curds into a bowl shape, removing and draining the whey.
Microwave again for 15 seconds. Repeat the squeezing, draining the whey.
Add the salt and microwave a third time for 15 seconds.
Now knead and stretch the curds until they form a ball, working the cheese until it has a smooth shiny surface.
The whey can be used to make ricotta or cooled down and used as plant feed.