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It’s a family affair: life on a modern dairy farm

At the Pickervance farm ‘a healthy cow is a profitable cow’ – just one of the reasons the family doesn’t skimp on the dairy herd’s comfort.

Like every industry dependent on the natural world, when it comes to farming, terms such as “sustainable” and “ethical” are not just buzzwords. In order to respond to contemporary demand, these are becoming necessary ways of approaching the industry. Times are a-changin’ for the bigger fish and things are improving on small-scale farms too.

Harrison Pickervance is a fourth-generation farmer currently celebrating his family’s centenary of working the land at Roseacre Hall in Lancashire. “My great-granddad moved here one hundred years ago,” he says. “He walked all of his cows through Preston, which seems unbelievable today.”

Since then, the farm has had many guises: “We’ve done a lot of different things over a hundred years – pigs, sheep, dairy, arable,” he says, “but over the last 20 years we’ve really focused on dairy farming.”

It’s a family affair, with the farms run between Pickervance and his brother Thomas, as well as their mum and dad, Harry and Christine. The family’s herd has 660 cows, which are milked daily through a rotary parlour, contributing to the 5.3m pints of milk Tesco sells to its customers every day.

There are 660 cows in the herd, milked daily, contributing to the 5.3m pints of milk Tesco sells every day. 

Partnered with Tesco, all of this milk goes to the supermarket chain. Eleven years ago, the Pickervances became one of the early participants of the Tesco Sustainable Dairy Group (TSDG), an initiative that seeks to improve farming practices for each of its 600+ dairy farmer members, from the big players to small-scale local farms.

One of the things TSDG is best known for is guaranteeing farmers receive a price above the cost of production, regardless of the price in-shop. “They have made it more sustainable,” says Pickervance, “by giving a fair price to farmers we’re more protected in the volatile milk market, especially since milk quotas ended in 2015.”

But that’s only one side of the coin. “Where we have really improved things is in health and welfare standards,” he says.

This covers everything from raising standards of locomotion scoring (assessing the cows’ walking ability) to reducing the reliance on antibiotics in treating illness by using preventative measures instead. It makes business as well as ethical sense. After all, says Pickervance, “a healthy cow is a profitable cow”.

Another facet of TSDG is an environmental one – Tesco encourages farmers to reduce their carbon footprint, with rigorous reporting every year. “It makes each individual farmer more aware of what we’re doing, and gives you a chance to benchmark against the TSDG group,” he says.

Suitably motivated, the Tesco programme sets up training workshops to help farmers progress. “You try to improve yourself every year by reducing your carbon footprint. If you’re at the top you strive to stay at the top, and if you’re at the bottom you strive to improve – most farmers are very competitive.”

Ultimately, though, it’s about the happiness of the animals. “We love our animals, we rear them from a day old all the way through,” says Pickervance.

 The Pickervances (Harry, Christine, Harrison and Thomas) are fourth-generation farmers working at Roseacre Hall in Lancashire.      

“Cows are massively sociable; they’ve got rankings and hierarchies and are incredibly intelligent animals,” he says. “The whole idea of the farm is to make the cows as well looked-after, happy and comfortable as possible. On our farm, all the beds for the cows are deep sand bedding, which they love. They’re basically lying on a beach.”

The TSDG is one of the long-term ways Tesco continues to provide support and security to British dairy farmers, paying a fair, independently set price for every pint, during periods of economic uncertainty. It’s also a way of ensuring cows on these farms are well cared for, clean and healthy, helping guarantee the best quality milk for customers. Tesco set an ambitious target to become a zero-carbon business by 2050

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