Wilma Finlay runs award-winning Ethical Dairy Cream o’ Galloway farm in Gatehouse of Fleet, Castle Douglas, with her husband David.
She has spoken out following the public and political outrage last week after a BBC Scotland documentary Disclosure: The Dark Side Of Dairy revealed Scotland’s live export trade of calves – mostly aged only three weeks – to Europe to be fattened for slaughter.
Finlay said a practical way to tackle this and prevent so many “extra” male calves “getting a bullet” was for the Scottish Government to do more to financially support farmers in the five to ten years it takes to diversify to ethically produced products and make a profit.
Her farm, which has already diversified into ice-cream making and artisan cheese production to complement beef and dairy farming, is now extending into the luxury ruby veal market.
The ethical production of veal by the Finlays to prove farming can be “ethical, sustainable and compassionate” allows male and female calves to stay with their mothers for five months instead of two days before being put out into the fields to graze.
When calves are nine months old, they can be killed for veal. Ruby veal is produced by the combination of milk, outdoor grass and the muscle the calves gain through a healthy lifestyle.
Finlay, the farm’s director whose crowdfunding appeal has raised 10 per cent of the £50,000 needed to help with the transition to ethical veal and cheese, said: “All farmers are struggling at the moment. While the BBC documentary didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know already, it made me think how people need to be educated in exactly how their food is produced and what role they can play to change things.
“Farmers need public support to make veal, which was an everyday product at the turn of the century, acceptable again.
“The Scottish Government also has to review its support schemes for diversification.”
John Smith, National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) milk chairman, said his organisation was in discussions over developing initiatives to help the sector diversify.
“Our ambition is to develop supply chain collaboration that is fit for purpose for the calves, the dairy and beef farmers, and the processing and retail sector,” he said.
Scottish rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon said: “This government recognises, as does the dairy sector and the NFUS, that the issue of surplus male dairy calves is complex and we will work with the sector to look at all the options available to find a sustainable way forward.
“We support the Ethical Dairy in pioneering a different approach to keeping dairy cows and their calves, although there will be no simple, single solution that can easily apply across the whole dairy sector.
“Welfare is the paramount concern when transporting live animals. We had been funding a year-long monitoring project to look in more detail at the issue. We will continue to take whatever action necessary to protect animal welfare and explore domestic market opportunities as an alternative to export.”