World Milk Day (1 June) will see Paul Tompkins do what he does every day of the year: ensuring his herd of dairy cows are happy and healthy.
“So I’ll be up at the crack of dawn, like I am every day, milking the cows, feeding the cows, giving them fresh bedding, keeping them happy and healthy and continue to provide a great British product.”
The reason for the emphasis on feeding and providing fresh bedding is that Paul, 37, from Melbourne near York, keeps the vast majority of his 250-acre farm’s 200-strong herd of milking cows – there are also 200 followers - indoors for most of the year.
Many dairy farmers will have their animals grazing out in the fields for the spring and summer months. But first generation dairy farmer Paul, who started in milk production in 2008 after joining his wife’s family farm business, explains he had to adapt to local conditions – by offering his cows high welfare sand cubicles as beds.
“Each farm is unique and we have to farm to what the majority of our year allows us to do,” says the new member of the NFU’s National Dairy Board.
“We farm in the Vale of York, which is a very flat landscape on some very hard clay. That means our soil is not free-draining; it grows grass well, but it remains wet for a large part of the year, so my grazing season here is very short.
“Our cows cannot produce that quantity of milk just by grazing grass alone. So they have to have a highly nutritious diet, which is formulated by our own special nutritionists in order to provide them with all their dietary requirements.”
Even if he were to let his all his cattle out to graze on the farm during the three-to-four months a year when it’s possible, Paul says they wouldn’t get enough nutrition from the grass to support the milk yield.
Cow welfare is very important to him. This is why he offers his herd a specialist maternity wing; large-scale ventilation fans for those warm sunny days and even automated hairbrushes.
The #HappyCows initiative for World Milk Day, which takes place on 1 June, was conceived by Paul, and two fellow NFU National Dairy Board members Abi Reader and Janette Prince. He hopes all fellow UK dairy farmers will take images of their happy cows and use the hashtag HappyCows when sharing them.
“Using social media and worldwide events like this is a very quick, easy and, dare I say, cost effective way of us reaching new and existing customers and reminding them why we have such a great product,” says Paul, also a dairy ambassador for AHDB Dairy.
World Milk Day and #HappyCows also gives him – and other dairy farmers – a chance to showcase what they do.
“It is an opportunity to show that each and every farming system in the UK has one shared priority, which is happy, healthy cows. Those happy, healthy cows go on to make great British products such as the butter in your sandwich, milk in your tea or cheese in your jacket potatoes.”