When you pick up a pint of milk, do you think about where it comes from? The 'Pasture Promise' logo by the Free-Range Dairy Network is aiming to get people thinking about how that milk got onto the shelf and the happiness of the cows that produced it.
I wanted to be able to give consumers a clear assurance that the cows on our farms were free to graze in fields every spring and summer
The logo guarantees that the milk in the carton has been produced by cows that have grazed for at least 180 days and nights a year. Happy cows! And that makes us happy, too.
Consumers want to know where their milk comes from
A lot of us automatically turn to free-range when purchasing eggs, but how do we feel when it comes to choosing our milk? Well, a recent YouGov poll shows that in fact 56% of us would buy free-range milk even if it costs more. And 86% of customers said that "dairy cows should be able to graze on pastures and not be permanently housed indoors."
Winner of the 2014 BBC Food & Farming Award for Outstanding Farmer of the Year, Neil Darwent, who set up the Free-Range Dairy Network, says, "I wanted to be able to give consumers a clear assurance that the cows on our farms were free to graze in fields every spring and summer."
Like free-range eggs, organic fruit and veg, and Fairtrade produce, we're all taking much more of an interest in where our food comes from, and how its production affects farmers, local communities and our health.
Neil explains, "people are demanding to know more about the provenance of their milk.
"I’m delighted to report that consumer demand for free-range milk, bearing the Pasture Promise logo is now driving confidence and collaboration in the supply chain to make it widely available."
Farmers are getting on board
There has been a really healthy response from smaller scale dairy farmers to get on board with the Pasture Promise logo initiative. Neil says, "They now understand that we are… offering consumers a more informed choice and recognise that this is how we can add value to milk at the farm gate."
And the farmers are being proactive about promoting their amazing milk. Neil says they have been, "hosting farm visits and attending events to tell people about their farms and their cows.
"It’s fantastic to see farmers working together to make a positive contribution to the dairy industry."
Living outside makes the milk taste alter with the seasons
Although many people may not be able to taste any differences between free range milk and others, Neil says that they often get comments from older individuals who say, "it tastes like proper milk."
The seasons also make a big difference to the taste of milk. Neil explains, "There are subtle changes in taste and texture in free-range milk throughout the year as the seasons have an impact. Milk produced from lush spring grass may taste different to that produced from late summer pasture for example. We want people to be able to enjoy those seasonal flavours in milk and understand the true value of cows in fields."
The future of free-range milk
Neil has high hopes for the future of free-range dairy farming, "I hope that in five years time we will have established a strong connection between farmers, milk buyers, retailers and consumers everywhere, to secure a supply of great tasting free-range milk, from cows in fields for generations to come."
He says that there is potential to extend the opportunity of getting the Pasture Promise logo to more than a thousand producers across Britain. However, he stresses the importance of maintaining the commitment to what the ‘Pasture Promise’ means. It means cows grazing for, 'at least half the year' – otherwise the term free-range will become a meaningless term. And that in turn, says Neil, 'will make it difficult, to deliver the recognition and reward our farmer members deserve.’
Asda hope that the Pasture Promise milk will continue to be a huge hit with their customers, and if that’s the case, they plan to make the milk available across all Asda stores.
So if you spot a carton of Pasture Promise in your local store, pick one up and know that it’s a very happy cow that gave you that milk.