We get lots of questions here at Yeo Valley. So many, in fact, that we thought it might be handy to put the ones we hear most often, all in one place. And that place is here.
Organic Dairy and Cow FAQs
Cows and Organic Farming
How do you care for your calves?
When a calf is born, we make sure it is with its mother for the first few days, having the colostrum (first milk – which contains nutrients and antibodies) from its mother. It’s then fed organic whole milk until it’s weaned, before moving on to grass/hay.
On our own family farms in Somerset, the calves born fall into three categories:
- British Friesian heifer calves will be the milkers of the future
- British Friesian bull calves which will be reared for beef or as breeding bulls
- Beef-cross bull and heifer calves will be reared for beef
80% of the beef reared in Britain comes originally from the national dairy herd.
How often do your cows calve?
The maiden heifers will calve when they are around 30 months old and then give milk for about about 300 days. They then have a rest for 60 days before calving again.
Cows – like wild horses, deer, wildebeest etc. – have evolved to have one pregnancy a year. Traditionally, they would have their young in the spring, when the grass is most abundant, and they would be able to produce lots of milk to give the calves the best start in life.
I've heard cows are really sociable – do you allow them to socialise?
Yes! Cows definitely have social groups, they are very inquisitive and always come and see what’s going on. By giving them plenty of space to roam around, they work out who is top cow.
How often do you milk your cows?
Many organic farms milk their cows twice a day, early in the morning say around 4.30am and then again early evening around 4pm. But some organic dairy farms milk once a day depending on their size and set up.
What happens when your dairy cows get old?
On our own family farms in Somerset, our pedigree British Friesians are a dual-use breed so when their milking days are over, they go for ‘cow beef’. This is equivalent to mutton in sheep and is slightly stronger in taste.
Do you use antibiotics on your cows/in your milk?
No. Organic milk is free from antibiotics. Thanks to higher animal welfare standards which reduce the risk of disease, the preventative use of antibiotics and wormers is banned in organic farming. Giving organic cows plenty of space and allowing them to behave naturally in a suitable environment means there is no need for preventative antibiotics. An animal is only treated with medicine if it is sick. When this happens, the cow’s milk is separated and is not included in the milk that goes to the dairy. The vet will decide when the treatment is complete. We always document how many antibiotics are given and to which cow.
Read more about this on the Soil Association website
Did you know? In 2017 farm animals accounted for around 30% of all antibiotics used in the UK.
The overuse of antibiotics in human and animal medicine is undermining their ability to cure life-threatening infections. The more sparingly we use our antibiotics, the more effective they will remain.
Do you use hormones on your cows/milk?
No. In line with European standards, our organic dairy farmers do not give hormones to their cows to increase the amount of milk they produce. The cows do fine on their own, and when they’re well fed and looked after, they will produce around 40 pints of high quality, nutritious milk every day.
Are your cows pasture fed/free range?
Organic cows are fed a diet that is as natural as possible. It is a condition of organic certification that 60% of a cow’s diet must be grass based and GM (genetically modified) free. This means that all organic cows graze and forage naturally on organic pasture and are free range.
Are your cows outdoors?
Organic cows spend as much time outdoors as possible on their grass-rich (minimum 60%) diet. They graze and forage naturally on organic pasture (grasses and other crops) where no chemicals and artificial fertilisers are used.
‘Zero-grazing’, where cows are kept indoors and cut grass or other feed, such as cereals and soya is taken to them, is banned by organic standards.
Do organic cows produce the same milk yield as non-organic cows?
Organic cows eat mainly grass (the organic standard requires 60% forage in the diet), while non-organic cows are generally given more concentrated feed (on average 1/3 more) in order to increase milk production.
This means organic dairy has lower but more sustainable, milk yield (on average 20% lower), which helps to protect the animals’ health and welfare.
What happens to bull (boy) calves?
On our own family farm in Somerset our British Friesian bull calves, will be reared for beef or as breeding bulls and our Beef-cross bull calves, will be reared for beef.
We work with two dairy co-operatives to supply all the organic milk we need (OMSCO and Arla) to make the two million Yeo Valley Organic moments a week. The organic dairy farmers who supply us value every calf as we do on our family farm and an alternative market must be found for them. As well as changing the breeding strategy to use more robust breeds more suited to rearing for beef.
- How do you care for your calves?
Can I visit your family farm in Somerset and see the cows?
As our farms are working farms, we’re not able to welcome visitors every day, but we do have our popular ‘Farm to Fridge’ days, where you can come visit the cows and learn all about them. Find out more here.
How much milk does an organic cow generally produce in a year?
Around 12,200 pints over 305 days on average. That’s around 40 pints a day.
Is your milk genetically modified in any way?
Organic milk is not genetically modified in any way. It is 100% pure organic milk with no added preservatives or hormones. Our organic milk comes from free-range cows who eat a 100% organic diet.
What's the difference between organic and conventional milk?
Organic milk comes from cows that have been raised according to organic farming methods. The cows are fed on a 100% organic diet. And organic farming practices prohibit the use of hormones, antibiotics, or artificial drugs in animal feed for the purpose of stimulating growth. This means that our organic milk is 100% naturally pure.
Is organic milk good for me?
Yes, organic milk is a great source of essential nutrients such as calcium, protein, vitamin B12, vitamin B2, phosphorous and potassium. All those nutrients naturally present in milk contribute to the normal function of the body in everyday life. For example, calcium is necessary for your bones, protein is needed for building muscle and potassium helps maintain a normal blood pressure.
I've read a lot about milk being bad for me, is this true?
We believe that no single food is healthy or unhealthy. It’s all about how you combine them and the amount you eat. Globally, health authorities consider that grass-fed milk and dairy products are part of a healthy diet. Milk is unique and it is a great source of essential nutrients such as calcium, protein, vitamin B12, vitamin B2, phosphorous or potassium. All those nutrients naturally present in milk, contribute to the normal function of the body in everyday life.
Why does organic milk cost more?
Organic milk is more expensive because it costs the farmer more to produce it. Fewer cows can be farmed per hectare of organic land and the volume of milk each organic cow produces, is at a lower, more natural, level. This means the farmer has to charge more for the milk to cover their costs. We pay our organic dairy farmers a price premium in addition to the farm gate price.
- Can I visit your family farm in Somerset and see the cows?
Keep up with everything happening in the valley...
...including upcoming events, recipes, competitions and more. Just pop your email address in below: