Waitrose has today pushed the boundaries of animal welfare with another industry first – designed to allow its dairy cows to exhibit natural behaviour.
From this week, all cows that supply the supermarket’s own label milk will spend more than half of the year grazing in grassy fields – increasing on the previous ground-breaking commitment of 120 days by a third.
For the first time, farmers will also leave their gates open throughout the spring and summer* to give cows the freedom to do as they please.
Director of the Waitrose Dairy Group and Waitrose milk producer, Andrew Booth, comments: “Like us, cows are sentient beings that like to exercise freedom of choice. To decide whether to be inside or outside, to lie in the sun or to take shelter from the rain. Giving them that choice and enabling them to demonstrate and articulate their natural behaviours whenever and wherever possible is fundamental to ensuring they live happy and enriching lives.”
Jake Pickering, senior agriculture manager at Waitrose, comments: “Our grazing pledge was already industry leading but we’re always challenging ourselves to improve and it’s a testament to our high standards that we’ve managed to even outdo ourselves. The move to a free range certification for our dairy cows will help ensure whenever possible that our cows go outside and for a minimum of 6 hours a day, something we know will give shoppers who care about welfare standards real confidence.”
Sadly, a fifth of UK dairy herds continue to be kept in housed systems all year round. However, work being led by Waitrose dairy farmers and leading British scientists has provided evidence to suggest that ready access to the outside during the warmer months is essential to a dairy cow’s positive emotional wellbeing.
Pickering added: “We strongly believe that our dairy cows should spend the maximum amount of time possible grazing in fields because it’s natural, healthy and – as our work with leading animal behavioural scientists at the SRUC is helping to validate – it’s a key factor in ensuring they live a happy life. “Including the emotional wellbeing of farm animals and environmental stewardship as key aspects of our welfare assessments represents a true step-change for the industry that goes above all prior assessment criteria, one that we hope will drive positive change across the UK agriculture sector.”