Free range milk in Australia


Jamie Oliver has a new cause – free range milk. Of course, his focus is on the UK but what about here?

There are housed dairy cows in Australia but I’ve never seen one because they’re very rare – so rare, I don’t even know how many hours I’d need to drive to show you one.

When we talk about the “cow shed” here, we mean the dairy. Aside from milking time, our cows spend their days out in the paddock grazing pasture and munching silage or summer crops.

Dairy cows are much more commonly housed in difficult climates. Teats exposed to snow in Europe or the USA can freeze, while cows exposed to desert heat in Saudi Arabia can die of heat exhaustion. Keeping cows indoors in those conditions not only makes sense, it’s the only humane thing to do.

There are some cases, though, where cows are kept permanently indoors, just to make the most milk possible. Advocates of housing say the cows live lives of luxury and are not forced to walk long distances and endure the discomfort of bad weather.

I’ve got some sympathy for those arguments. On the other hand, studies suggest that cows prefer access to pasture and then, there are videos like this one showing Dutch dairy cows being let outside for the first time after winter.

Really intensive farms are popping up around the globe where thousands – even tens of thousands of cows – are housed and milked up to four times per day.

I’ve never been to one of these places, so find it hard to pass judgement on them but it’s even harder to forget watching a cow leap for joy as she greets the great outdoors.

Ethical milk – which brand to buy?

There’s a feeling “out there” in the Twitterverse that milk aint what it used to be. So, what to choose?

The first piece of good news is that there’s lots you don’t need to worry about. Growth hormones are illegal on Australian dairy farms for a start. Free range cows are also the norm (I haven’t seen a housed herd in Australia and wouldn’t even know where to find one).

Thanks to what raw-milk advocates often call Australia’s “ridiculously stringent” food safety laws, you can be confident your dairy foods are safe for even your most frail family members; the Chinese melamine disaster won’t happen here. Despite the marketing campaigns of a large multinational corporation, permeate (check my all about permeate post to find out more) is also safe and nutritious.

If want farmers to receive a fair price for milk, you can still shop at the big supermarkets with a clear conscience if you buy a brand-name milk. It’s even better if you can buy the Devondale brand of dairy products because they are made by the 100% farmer-owned co-op, Murray Goulburn. If you can access a farmstead brand of milk, that’s okay too. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t find or afford a farmstead brand though – very, very few dairy farmers can afford to set up a milk processing plant after all and we are grateful that you are supporting us by choosing not to buy the generic stuff.