Q&A with Wilma Finlay, Managing Director of Cream o’ Galloway
Q: What makes you stand out?
A: We are dairy farmers who’ve adopted a holistic approach called ‘Whole Health Farming’ that puts the health of the whole farming system – animals, landscape, people and environment – ahead of profit. We use less than 1/10 of the antibiotics per cow compared to the average UK dairy farm; our dairy herd has 1/3 of the cases of mastitis and incidents of lameness and a productive life twice that of an industrial dairy cow; and our staff have a life! They have time to see their families and have hobbies because our herdsmen work about 20% fewer hours than those who work on intensive dairy farms.
Q: Why do you care?
A: It sounds corny, but it really has been a journey. I’ve always been interested in environmental and animal welfare issues, but my husband David came from a conventional farming background and, at an early stage of his career, was advising farmers on the best cocktail of chemicals to use on their crops. David’s transformation has been ‘poacher-turned-gamekeeper’. It came about because of his dissatisfaction of having to pedal faster to stand still – more cows, more antibiotics, more pesticides, more bought-in feed, just to maintain a tiny profit. He read lots, talked to organic farmers who’d been on the journey before him and decided it was the best option for our farm and our sanity.
Q: Is being responsible good for business?
A: We have found that by staying small and niche we can survive by focussing on people who care about how their food is produced. Over the last 20 years, at times we have been ‘just surviving’, and we have had to re-structure the business since the recession started in 2008. But now we feel much more positive about the market and the resilience of our business to survive future buffeting.
Q: Has the business changed you?
A: We are both much more informed and concerned about world issues – climate change, resource depletion, further financial crises. Our politics have changed and over time even our friendships have too. We are both workaholics but when we do buy things we are conscious of trying to source them ethically – though like most people we do still have blind spots.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: Although we are both working most of the time, when we do get out and about and meet informed citizens who really are interested in how their food is produced and in the system we are implementing, then that gives us enormous satisfaction.
Q: Plans for the future?
A: One key part of the dairy system that we trialled 2 years ago and we intend to trial again is to leave the calves with their mothers. Dairy calves are usually removed at birth and reared on a milk replacement powder. In an organic system, they must be reared on whole milk, but in almost all cases that is done by farm staff in a separate building from their mothers, rather than allowing one of the most natural processes in the world – a cow to feed her calf. Our plan isn’t just ‘fluffy’ animal welfare. By feeding our calves their mother’s milk we needn’t buy in as much cereal to supplement their diet, leaving more arable land available to grow food for people. David and I will continue to challenge ourselves on the best methods of dairying as we learn more about truly sustainable systems.