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From cheese to cancer: a farming story

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By Fiona Reid
Farming
From cheese to cancer: a farming story

A FARMING couple this week launched their new memoir at the Wigtown Book Festival.

‘A Dairy Story’ recounts how Wilma and David Finlay, of Rainton Farm near Castle Douglas, built their Ethical Dairy business and their decades long work to make dairy farming kinder to cows and their calves.

The pair, both 67, are pioneers of the cow with calf method and have the largest set up of its kind in Europe, as well as making Cream o’ Galloway ice cream.

But it’s been a hard slog to get there with their initial pilot nearly ending in bankruptcy as well as battles with recurring cancer, including Wilma’s current treatment for Stage 4 lung cancer.

Despite the hardships, they have fought to reinvent dairy farming, by designing an alternative to standard industry practice that sees calves being forcibly separated from their mothers within 24 hours of birth.

The couple are also making a stand against the ‘ever-increasing industrialisation ‘of dairy farming, which sees cattle spend their entire lives in mega-sheds, rather than grazing in rich pastures.

Wilma is determined to tell the world about their pioneering and successful journey away from conventional farming to an organic, 100 per cent pasture, regenerative, cow-with-calf dairy that’s now at the forefront of a global movement.

She said: “When I met David and moved to the farm I was deeply uncomfortable with removing calves from their mothers so soon after birth. Once we started providing farm tours it became clear the general public didn’t like normal dairy industry practices either. We believed there must be a better way to do things, so we set out to find it.

“Over the past year we have seen a surge of interest in our system, and at the same time we have been confronted with the stark reality that none of us can take tomorrow for granted. So we are determined to make everything we know accessible to others.

“I can’t just sit in a corner moping about the hand I’ve been dealt.For the sake of our planet farming needs to change, and quickly.”

Finlays have farmed at Rainton, Gatehouse of Fleet, since the 1920s – and until the 1970s the farm was also well-known for its artisan cheesemaking. One of David and Wilma’s proudest achievements was the revival of traditional cheesemaking on the farm, and, in 2018, they launched their cheese brand, The Ethical Dairy.

David said: “Our ethical dairy farming system isn’t just about letting calves stay with their mum, it’s about so much more than that. Our goal is the creation of a circular, regenerative food production system, fed by sunlight and rain, that has a positive environmental impact, delivers nutritious food, provides good quality jobs and works to the highest possible standards of animal welfare.

“It might not have been easy, but our farm is living proof that it can be done.”

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