Cow Nation

Written By Reena on 16 Dec 2011 | 05:00

When I first started this blog (135 posts ago!) I was a vegan.  I commenced this short-lived experiment as I felt strongly about the way that dairy cattle are intensively farmed.  Increasingly they are:
  • being permanently kept in indoor environments to reduce costs and maximise yields
  • culled at around 5 years old when their normal life expectancy should be 18 or 19 years
  • removed from their mothers at birth and if they are male they are either shot immediately or raised for veal*. 
A number of the vegetable curry dishes I cook are actually vegan and so I didn't find it too difficult to omit dairy products other than when I left our apartment.  At that point it was almost impossible to find anything to eat and I resorted to carrying dried fruit and nuts with me at all times.  In addition I really missed cheese, cakes, biscuits - all the good stuff and I couldn't reconcile my love of food with my abhorrence of our farming techniques.  So what drives intensive farming?  

Partly it is our own greed for supermarket loss-leaders resulting in each dairy farmer in the UK being subsidised by an average of £32,300 a year**.  Isn't this crazy?  Shouldn't the supermarkets (and ergo the consumer) pay the true cost of food to the source rather than the government making up losses through consumer's taxes?  People argue that cheap food is a right but when 50% of the population is expected to be obese by 2030 (The Lancet, 2011),  surely food is too cheap?  Malnutrition in this country isn't due to a lack of food it is due to eating the wrong food.

Last month a new brand was launched called Cow Nation which allows the cows to "own their own produce" with profit going to give the animals an income, and funding their retirement.  Cow Nation does not kill any calves but reduces the number of male calves by using gender selected semen.  Any male calves that are born are allowed to live their full lives with the herd in beautiful pastures in Suffolk.  In addition, each cow will produce only 3,000 litres of milk per ten-month lactating cycle, a significant reduction on the average of 7,400 litres (Defra, May 2011).  This reduces both the strain on the cow and the threat of disease.

To me this is the no-brainer solution to my dairy concerns however I am not expecting to convert the masses, I'm just letting people know that there is an alternative.  Steve and I drink on average two pints of milk a week and we can afford to pay £1.99 a litre as opposed to £0.45 (the average price in supermarkets resulting in a loss to the farmer of £0.04 per litre)***.  Yes it is comparably expensive but it is the true cost of sustainable, ethical farming and now with the launch of Cow Nation I really can have my (cheese)cake and eat it.

*According to Farmers Weekly (April 2011), 2,000 Holstein male dairy calves are shot each week.  Don't make the mistake of thinking that they grow up to become a tasty burger; consumers prefer a less fatty meat resulting in male dairy calves becoming a by-product of the dairy industry. 

**Figures for the twelve months ending February 2010 (Farm Business Survey 2011).

*** The eagle-eyed readers in the audience will note that incredibly milk is cheaper than water which currently retails at £0.88 per litre. 

About Reena


  1. Excellent post.

    Re water versus milk, I remember several years ago a correspondent to the Times made a similar point and enquired whether it was possible to re-engineer cows to produce water.

    Of course the real WTF is that water, when retailed from the tap, costs approximately 0.11 pence per litre*, and yet people still buy bottled stuff for approximately 750x the price.

    *Thames Water volume charge 2011/12


  2. Thanks Charlie. As the Craig Revel Horwood of my readership that is high praise indeed! Agreed re the water issue - especially when people are flying it in from Fiji! Merry Christmas. Reena

  3. I had to look up who that is on Wikipedia. I'm going to assume you mean the comparison in this regard:

    "Unqualified praise, or a perfect 10 mark from Horwood, is considered hard won and therefore highly prized by contestants and audiences alike"

    rather than this:

    "at the age of 17 he made money by appearing as a drag queen in bars and clubs, and that his relationship with an unnamed celebrity was akin to prostitution"


  4. LOL! Look deep within yourself Charlie. You know which one I meant...