Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dairy practice

As promised, here is the amazing reply to an e-mail I sent, regarding dairy practice, to Tasmanian dairy farm Elgaar.

I am impressed not only by the content of this email, but that he took time out of his no doubt exceptionally busy day to provide me with a detailed response.

I'm really pleased too, as it is a great product! We consume 2 litre buckets of yoghurt by the, well, bucket-load.

With permission to share from Anton Gretschmann:

Dear Bree,

Thank you for your message submitted on our website yesterday, and thank you for your question regarding bobby calves.

We do things differently here at Elgaar.

We are one of the only (if not the only) dairy farms in Australia that let the calves suckle naturally on their mothers for an extended period of time (3 to 4 months) and we also let the calves run with the herd (and therefore their mothers) from then on until they are heifers and join the dry herd. There’s no separation stress or anything in this regard. As our calves run with their mums, they get to know the milking process – they simply wait in the yard for their mum to come back out of the milking shed. A few weeks before the heifers are due to calve they leave the dry (pregnant) herd and rejoin the milking herd where they will go through the milking parlour with the other cows and get used to the procedure of milking. There is never any force involved in any part of Elgaar operations – no cattle prods, no dogs, no shouting or stress. Cows love the process of milking – in fact they line up at the paddock gate in anticipation in the morning and afternoon. It’s partly because they like getting milked, and partly because our girls know they can expect fresh hay and oats whilst being milked.

At Elgaar Farm there is a great emphasis on the ethical and humane treatment of animals. We are currently preparing a brochure which details our farming and dairying practices and this will be available for download from our website shortly. In the meantime, let me outline some of the measures we take to ensure the welfare of our cows (and male calves):
  • Our male calves are reared as above, and those that are not kept as replacement bulls (we have several bulls with the herd) are sold for veal to our local abattoir after a period of 3 to 4 months spent with their mother and the rest of the dairy herd. This is an unavoidable part of dairy farming, but we have approached this in a manner that attempts to minimise the stress normally associated with this. Amongst other things, we employ a livestock carrier that treats the animals with care and we do not allow at any time the use of electrical cattle prods or anything that may cause undue stress to the animals during loading and transportation (transport takes under 30 minutes). But the most significant method by which we have reduced the need to sent animals to the abattoir is the fact that most of our cows lactate for more than one year, some up to three years.
  • The average Australian dairy cow is sold off to the meatworks after four years of milking, but Elgaar Farm’s work for up to a decade. Once they are deemed too old for milking duties, retirement means grazing the paddocks for the rest of their natural life, though most still front up for the twice-daily milking routine – old habits die hard. In fact, one of our cows lived to 38 years. The fact our cows lactate for a long period does not in any way affect their health or condition in a negative way. In fact, the ancestors of our modern day cows only calved every two years or so due to the long gestation period of a bovine (9 months). This is still a common dairy practice in Europe, and is also becoming increasingly popular in other areas of the world. The 12 month calving pattern of the modern dairy is an un-natural method primarily developed to boost individual milk production in modern breeds of cows and is also to increase the amount of calves available for replacement heifers (due to short, so called ‘useful’ lifespan of conventional dairy cows, i.e. four years). Our cows produce milk for up to three years in a row and are always healthy (and happy - at least as far as we can tell – they behave in a very contented and stress-free manner).
  • The Elgaar cows graze in paddocks where grasses are mixed with herbs such as shepherds purse, self heal, chicory and Persian clover. Like all the farm’s crops, the pastures are never sprayed with artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.
  • The Elgaar cows that graze on this green smorgasbord clearly thrive on the farm and enjoy a surprisingly long life. All ailments are treated with natural remedies, and we pride ourselves on the fact that it is ten years since we last had to call a vet – even then that was just to help with a difficult birth.
  • Elgaar Farm does not use animal derived rennet in the production of cheese. The microbial rennet we use is certified non-animal derived and ge-free and is produced by a Danish company (Chr. Hansen). The particular type of microbial enzyme rennet used by Elgaar Farm is produced in a laboratory only from plant derived ingredients. Absolutely no Elgaar Farm cheese is produced with the use of animal derived rennet and all Elgaar Farm products are suitable for vegetarians.

We’ll never compromise our ethics and quality, and that certainly rules out becoming a large company that is no longer able to monitor and care for our animals the way the we do.

Again, thanks for taking the time to write to us – it’s always fantastic to hear from people passionate about where their food comes from. And if you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to contact me on the details below.

Thanks for your support of Elgaar organic dairy goods.

Best regards,
Anton Gretschmann

Administration Manager | Elgaar Farm


  1. Hey, Bree, thanks so much for sharing. Is it OK if I print this letter to share with my customers who might ask about it in the future?

    xx Liz

  2. I'm not sure about printing it Liz. Perhaps contact Anton yourself with an e-mail, and ask him for some info for your customers at Eumarrah. He may want to tailor it a little. That said, he was happy for me to share it on Twitter etc. so obviously he was happy for it to be read.