Our dairy cows spend a minimum of 120 days a year grazing outside
We are the only supermarket to make this pledge, and in practice, herds spend far longer outside when the weather permits – because like people, cows would rather avoid the rain.
In 2019, a year of challenging weather conditions, dairy cows producing Essential milk spent an average of 173 days outside, and organic herds averaged 208 days.
The pledge is just one of the reasons Waitrose wins awards for its farming. Look out for our animal welfare marque on our own-label meat and fish.
Shy by nature, dairy cows thrive when they are looked after in a calm and gentle manner
We like to keep our dairy cows happy
- We work only with farmers we know and trust, sourcing all our own-label milk from British herds. This means we can guarantee animal health and welfare standards.
- We pay farmers a fair and leading price for their milk – so they can invest in the future of their farms. We think they are doing a great job.
- We are committed to animal welfare, demonstrated by the 120-day grazing pledge. Most years, our herds are outside with access to fresh grass for around 200 days but it depends on the weather. Cows, like people, do not like rain.
- When the weather turns, herds are sheltered in comfortable airy barns with plenty of room to lie and turn around. The cows like to mill in groups and lie on fresh bedding – with lots of readily available food and water.
- As well as access to lots of water, fibre-rich grass and silage, our cows are provided with brushes they can rub against to keep their coats in good condition.
- Our farmers take care of their herds in a calm and gentle manner because dairy cows are shy by nature, and socialise in their herds. They also enjoy time and space to ruminate.
- Some of our dairy farmers use special cow ‘fitbits’ to make sure the animals are moving around, eating well and staying fit and happy.
Working with our farmers
The Waitrose Dairy Farmers Group was founded in 1999 and today it is made up of 40 family-owned farms that supply our Essential milk. Members work to a detailed set of environmental and animal welfare standards.
As well as the guarantee that their herds will graze outside for a minimum of 120 days a year, the group has committed to setting aside 10% of land for wildlife habitats, including wildflower meadows that attract pollinators. They are working towards being carbon neutral by 2030.
The group is beneficial for farmers, too: they are paid a fair and leading price for milk that is not based on market fluctuations. This means our farmers can make a living and invest in their farms. This way of working means we can guarantee the quality and traceability on every pint.
Meet the farmer
David Homer's dairy herds have been filmed for a Waitrose TV ad
On David Homer’s farm in Wiltshire, the cows are busy doing what cows like to do: grazing on lush, green grass, lying down to chew the cud and, from time to time, lifting their tails to help David out with a supply of fertiliser. ‘‘You only have to look at them to see they’re happy to be out,’’ says David. ‘‘They like being in the fresh air and grazing on the fresh grass.’’
Back in 2016, David’s cows featured in a television advert for Waitrose, highlighting our promise that every cow supplying its milk and cream is grazed outside for at least 120 days a year.
‘‘We keep an eye on the weather and the ground conditions, and how much grass is available, but they’re usually outside by the beginning of March,’’ says David. ‘‘That first day, you can see how pleased they are to get out – they bounce about with their tails up, and hop and skip around. Then they’ll graze through the summer into the autumn, and we won’t bring them indoors until it gets cold and wet, around the first week of November.’’
"You only have to look at them to see they’re happy to be out. They like being in the fresh air and grazing on fresh grass"
This time outdoors allows the cows as natural a life as possible, with freedom to move, graze and form social bonds. During winter, they’re brought inside to roomy sheds with comfortable bedding and plenty of space to move around.
‘‘Waitrose standards are high,’’ says David. ‘‘The Essential Waitrose milk looks the same as the milk you’d get in any other supermarket, and the price is the same too – but the way it’s produced, the way the farmers work and follow the best practice protocols makes it different. Our cows are out grazing, we’re careful about what we feed them, our health and welfare standards are monitored – and that’s been going on for nearly 20 years. The care we take to make Waitrose milk makes it unique.’’
All our own-label milk is from British herds
The controversial treatment of male calves
We’ve taken a stand against the all too common practice of slaughtering bull calves at birth – many dairy farmers consider them to be an unwanted by-product. Our Cattle Connect scheme means those born on Waitrose dairy farms are reared for beef and rose veal on British farms that work to the same high standards of animal welfare, with plenty of space to socialise and play. You can find out more about the calves' lives here.
Find out more about the milk you buy
All Essential milk and cream is supplied by a group of dedicated British farmers, who work exclusively with Waitrose. Working solely with this small group means we can trace every carton back to the farm where it was produced, and guarantee best practice in animal health and welfare, as well as commitments to encourage wildlife to flourish on farms. All the dairy cows spend a minimum of 120 days a year grazing in fields.
Waitrose Duchy Organic
Herds producing organic milk are reared on dedicated farms in the West Country with high animal welfare and environmental care standards. They spend as much time as possible outside. When the weather is bad, they are housed in well-bedded sheds with lots of space. Under standards set by the Soil Association, the animals enjoy an organic diet and routine antibiotic use is banned.
Whole Milk From Ayrshire Cows
Part of the Waitrose Duchy Organic range, it is produced by Ayrshire cows on Duchy Home Farm estates in Gloucestershire and Devon. Like all Duchy products, a proportion of each sale is donated to The Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund, supporting good causes including Duchy Future Farming, which helps farmers develop more sustainable farming practices.
More like this
Veal calves, deer and game birds
They're all reared to world-leading standards of animal welfare
Careful fish and seafood sourcing
It's all responsibly farmed and caught, which means we're preserving stocks for future generations.
Beef cattle have more room to roam
They have more space than the Red Tractor standard, and we never use growth hormones.