How now, brown cow

HAPPY COWS MAKE HAPPY MILK… How Now Dairy co-owner, Cathy Palmer mingles with the cows and calves on their dairy farm. Photo: Katelyn Morse

In this era of prolonged drought, high water pricing and the number of farmers leaving the dairy industry, it is refreshing to hear a good news story about the production of milk.

Operating from their farm in Congupna, third generation dairy farmer and renowned dairy nutritional consultant, Dr Les Sandles found himself becoming increasingly disenfranchised with the direction of the Australian dairy industry toward mega-dairies. In 2012, he and partner, Cathy Palmer, a passionate animal rights activist who had built a career in the music industry, decided to stop complaining about the problem – and become part of the solution with How Now Dairy.

How Now Dairy operates with happy cows. Their point of difference is that bobby calves are not separated from their mothers at birth, which is the usual dairy farm practice but they are able to nurse from their mothers even while their mothers are being milked for production.

The calves stay with their mums for at least four months before they are weaned. Using sexed semen, to date we are getting 100 percent female progeny that will eventually go into the heard.

Cathy Palmer said, “We are big fans of biodynamic / biological farming and use most of their practices but we cannot be certified – simply because we use sexed semen, which is considered a genetic modification. So, rather than complain, we are developing a holistic farm accreditation that will encourage more farmers to convert to organic/biological/biodynamic farming. Of course, in addition to soil and pasture management, most importantly the certification will focus on the ethical management of our animals, including keeping all the calves with their mums.”

In December last year, How Now Dairy was nominated for a Banksia Foundation sustainability award, an Australian award that align with the United Nations sustainability development goals, coming away with the Small Business award with the citation: How Now Dairy follows a ‘cow-centric’ dairying model, that meets the ethical demands of welfare-conscious consumers and puts the welfare of the cow and calf first.