Cow-with-Calf Dairying: a survival strategy for the family farm?

Cow-with-Calf Dairying: a survival strategy for the family farm?

Hosted by David Finlay, Cream O’Gallaway and other experts.

Many dairy farmers are looking for alternative production methods and markets in a ‘less but better’ model, that allows them to have control over the way they farm; their work life balance and the future of their business. One such system which is being trialled by a small number of farmers in the UK is ‘Cow with calf’ dairying which involves keeping dairy calves with their mothers for the first months of life. As part of a knowledge transfer and innovation fund project in Scotland, a team of scientists are working with a cow with calf farm to look at the economic, environmental, social and animal health and welfare aspects of this system. What are the challenges and benefits and could a cow with calf system work for your farm?


Gordon Whiteford has been a first generation farmer at Lower Mill of Tynet Farm on the Fochabers Crown Estate since 2012, in the heart of Morayshire, Scotland. He was brought up on a dairy farm in Ayrshire but didn’t get the opportunity to take on the family farm.  Gordon studied Agriculture at SAC Auchincruive and laterally farm business management at SAC Craibstone.  After a couple of years in farm management he started his own business, Highland Eggs, in 2005.  Gordon rented a small field and erected a hen shed to produce organic eggs for Glenrath Farms. He now farms an organic mixed farming operation on 160Ha comprising of arable, cattle, sheep and eggs which is packed through his own packing shed.  Recently a micro dairy was added keeping cows with calves and retailing the milk through a vending machine.  Gordon is Vice chairman of Scottish Organic Producers Association.

David Finlay spent ten years as a farm consultant before returning home to farm our 340ha tenanted dairy, beef and sheep farm in 1987 at first intensifying then converting to organic in 1999. He started their diversification businesses – ice-cream manufacture and a family playground/visitor attraction – in 1994. They built a new dairy complex for 130 milkers in 2009 – 2012, experimenting with cow-with-calf dairying over the 2012/13 winter. He walked away from that licking his wounds but returned to it in autumn 2016 and have been working to develop a viable system since then. They opened their new cheese dairy in autumn 2019 trading as ‘The Ethical Dairy’, selling 90% of our cheeses direct to customers online.

Prof Sigrid Agenas is trialling a cow-with-calf system at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden and brings another perspective on the system.

Dr Orla Shortall is a social scientist at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen. Orla’s research interest is farmer decision making and understanding processes of change within agricultural systems. Orla’s current research focuses on indoor, high input and grass based dairy sectors in the UK and Ireland in a project called ‘Cows eat grass, don’t they?’ and animal health management in the dairy and beef sectors, in EU and Scottish government funded projects, as well as involvement in the “Keeping Cow with Calf – Bringing Innovation to Scottish Dairying” Project.

Dr Holly Ferguson is a Precision Dairying Scientist based at SRUC’s Dairy Research and Innovation Centre in Dumfries. Holly has a background in metabolic diseases of cattle and sheep, involving the use of precision technologies for early disease detection. Some of her current work includes coordinating the KTIF project entitled “Keeping Cow with Calf – Bringing Innovation to Scottish Dairying”, working on several projects looking at innovative dairying systems across Europe, the use of precision livestock farming (PLF) tools for improved health, welfare and production and the use PLF tools to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas production.


Oct 07 2020


1:30 pm - 3:00 pm