ONE of Tynedale’s best-known dairy farms, Wheelbirks, near Stocksfield, is publicly supporting the #Februdairy campaign, which aims to champion the dairy farming industry.

The notion, coined in 2018, by livestock sustainability consultant and animal scientist, Dr Jude Capper, was launched to highlight the hard work and positive practice which goes on behind the scenes.

Farmers are encouraged to share their stories, so as to educate the wider consumer audience about sustainable and specialised dairy farming, in a bid to challenge some of the misconceptions that infiltrate social media. A spin-off milk challenge has also been launched, which sees supporters down a pint of milk and nominate friends to do the same.

The movement comes on the back of #Veganuary, which encourages people to try a plant-based diet for the month of January, and is a direct response to the growing demand for dairy-free alternatives, which continue to rise in popularity.

The Richardsons of Wheelbirks, admit they struggled with the notion initially, even choosing to opt out last year for fear of a backlash.

This year, however, the farming family are ready to “shout out” about what they have to offer, stating they are “proud of who we are and the way we farm”.

Wheelbirks has a long-standing farming history, dating back as far as 1925. The Richardsons were the first to have an all-female herd of Jersey cattle in the country, which today remain the only pedigrees in Northumberland.

Despite warnings the herd would not survive as far north, the animals have flourished in a testament, no doubt, to Wheelbirks’ welfare policy with the oldest resident herd member, Wheelbirks Wine, aged 16.

Farmers, Tom and Hugh Richardson, place animal welfare at the forefront of everything they do, and they believe that caring for their 120-strong herd all day, everyday, proves this.

Their “girls”, as they are affectionately named, enjoy the outdoors for just under half of the year; a study, conducted by Newcastle University, found cattle who enjoy an alfresco diet produce healthier milk, with a greater number of antioxidants and vitamins, than those who do not. The Richardsons believe members of the public are beginning to think about their food and its source more.

Wheelbirks, which is also home to an ice cream parlour, sold over 25,000 litres of unpasteurised milk last year, suggesting there remains a large market for those wanting to start their day with a rich blend of proteins and nutrients, from a naturally occurring source, despite the rise of alternatives likes almond, soya and oat milk.

Lucinda Richardson, parlour manager, believes that “any food in its natural state is better than processed alternatives,” but is respectful of views that may differ from her own.

Cows are said to spend 14 hours per day lying down and, with this in mind, Tom and Hugh ensure their herd have fresh straw and bedding every three days so they are as comfortable and as clean as possible.

Each Jersey is closely monitored, with cleanliness, mobility and injury recorded quarterly. The herd is also visited by vets regularly and only ever vaccinated if necessary.

The Richardsons do not have any bulls – using sexed semen to ensure this – a choice they say leads to no unnecessary killing of animals. The family ensure that cattle are only slaughtered if unwell or old, which they believe makes for the most humane death.

Participating in #Februdairy has allowed Wheelbirks to connect with other dairy farms via social media.