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Vegetarian farmer Jay Wilde has given his herd of 59 cows to a sanctuary so he can concentrate on arable farming.
Wilde inherited the family dairy operation but turned to beef farming after deciding that dairy is too intensive for the animals.
He says: “We stopped producing dairy because it was so arduous. To take the cow’s milk, you have to separate her from her baby. This is really difficult. Obviously, the cows get very upset when they are separated. It takes them a long time to get over.
"Farmers usually try to keep the calves well away from the cows so after separation they can’t communicate back and forth and prolong the agony.”
Getting to know the animals inspired him to stop eating meat.“Cows are conscious of what goes on around them – they have personalities and an inner life," he says.
"They’re not just units of food. Knowing them personally makes it more difficult to think about eating them.
“I began to see that cows recognise each other, and they’ve got very good memories. They experience a range of emotions – they can be sad, happy, bored or excited. They do also have facial expressions. You can tell what a cow is thinking by looking at them.
"I’ve even seen cows cry.”
The report, which was launched 18 months ago, sets out some of the aims and opportunities at the heart of the society’s Grow Green campaign.
This long-term initiative aims to influence the government to stop subsidising unsustainable animal farming and support farmers to transition to farming plant protein crops instead. It seeks to address the inherent inefficiency involved in animal farming – after all, growing crops for humans to eat is always going to produce more food than growing crops to first feed to farmed animals.
According to the report: “Given the imperative of making significant GHG (greenhouse gas) reductions over the next 35 years, substituting livestock products with plant protein sources grown in the UK (for human consumption) would be a relatively straight-forward way to address part of a complex problem.
"A transition of this type – according to the timescale required – would demand firm political commitment and urgent action in order to halt climate change and meet agreed climate targets.
“It would also need to be part of a more comprehensive strategy within which the increase of protein crop production was accompanied by incentives to encourage new markets for plant protein products and a public recognition of the benefits they bring.”
After reading the report and deciding to move towards a more sustainable farming model, Wilde needed to rehome the animals - despite his brother-in-law telling him he was 'absolutely insane' to give away cattle which could fetch up to £40,000 at market.
Tom Kuehnel, campaigns officer for The Vegan Society, was tasked with this. “It seemed like an impossible task,” says Tom.
“There are so many great vegan sanctuaries around the UK, but I wasn’t hopeful about finding somewhere with the space and capacity to take on 59 cows.
“But then I got in touch with Wendy from Hillside Sanctuary in Norfolk – and she said that she was able to take all of them! It was a great moment at The Vegan Society office.
"Hearing that these cows are going to live out their natural lifespans in a loving environment was a really special moment for us.”
Hillside founder Wendy Valentine said all the animals 'would live out their lives essentially as pets', adding that 30 of the cows are pregnant.
Wilde will now be running a vegan organic market farm supplying garden produce without using animal products or fertilisers.“I think we can change the way we live here, to something more suitable for the future than simply continuing to eat animals," he says.
A Vegan Society spokesperson says: “We have assembled a team with expertise in stock-free farming to facilitate the farm’s transition, including Iain Tolhurst and the Vegan Organic Network.
“This transition signals the beginning of a new future of farming. Currently the industry is in crisis. Farms are closing weekly due to financial pressure, mental health among the farming community is suffering, and consumers are turning away from animal products.
"We need something to change, to support the UK’s new and changing dietary habits, to help protect the environment, and to secure a stable future for the British farmers.”
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