Everything I didn’t know about dairy

01 February 2024 | Meredith Richards
Programme Associate, Meredith Richards, visited our partner the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society for a training day with dairy specialist consultant veterinarian, Peter Edmondson.

On being invited to attend a dairy training day at the Royal Jersey Agricultural and Horticultural Society (RJA&HS) with Peter Edmondson in the first week back after the Christmas break, I didn’t quite know what to expect. 

Peter runs the veterinary consultancy service UdderWise, specialising in practical controls to improve the health and welfare of dairy cows, and subsequently milk quality. Meeting Peter, I can say that I’ve never met anyone so passionate and knowledgeable about cows. 

So where does this tie into JOA’s work, and why am I at a dairy farm in the snow in January? 

Part of what makes JOA’s approach effective as a relatively small donor is its specialism in areas of development programming where the Island already has a comparative advantage. This is where one of JOA’s three themes comes in – Dairy for Development. 

Being from Jersey, I needed no introduction to the qualities of the breed, but this training began to put into perspective just how lucky we are to have her, and just what a valuable asset she can be in improving the efficiency and quality of dairy farming around the world. It was fascinating to discuss perceptions of what is considered ‘good’ in some countries; where bigger may be considered better (the traditional black-and-white Holsteins and Friesians being what most of the world consider synonymous with dairy), despite the seemingly obvious benefit of a smaller breed needing less feed to produce the same volume and quality of milk. Much of Peter’s task seems to be in education to tackle preconceptions or assumptions regarding dairy production, and some of his training content has been recorded and published on YouTube with the aim of making it more widely available to anyone with access to a mobile phone, and more accessible, with the view to producing local language versions for targeted distribution. 

Coming back to UdderWise, Peter has been putting the wealth of knowledge he has to great use, and is committed to transferring skills to developing dairies; every year UdderWise dedicates time to consultancy support in countries including Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. This means travelling to remote smallholders with herds of as little as one, to the bulking groups where their milk is collected, all the way to the processing facilities, and assessing practice at every stage to identify where improvements can be made to make it as efficient, safe, and profitable as possible for the producers. 

Interestingly, Peter’s approach has almost mirrored one that I have seen used in some of JOA’s financial inclusion projects – that of the community ‘champion’, or someone who is known and trusted by a community trained in the use of a technology or service, to aid in others seeing its benefit and with the aim of increasing rates of adoption. Relating this to dairy, Peter has been using examples of highly successful dairy smallholders in rural communities as role models to help others see that practices which may not seem particularly appealing to a farmer – such as feeding or watering a cow more – are directly related to good quality, high-yield milk production. This, paired with interventions for access to financial services like small loans for feed, may help farmers to sustainably achieve better practice, and to see a great improvement in their income from dairy farming. 

I certainly have a better understanding of the practical challenges that require consideration when assessing dairy development programmes, and am beginning to fully appreciate how much impact our pretty girl has the potential to make. 

Applications are now open for our next Programme Associate internship beginning in May, so if gaining programmatic experience like this – which is so vital to getting your first job in international development – appeals to you, read more about the role here. 

2024 Programme Associate Internship