Dairy cows grazing in pasture© Design Pics Inc/Rex/Shutterstock

A Waitrose pledge to sell fresh milk only from cows guaranteed at least 100 days of outdoor grazing annually has met with a mixed reaction from farmers.

The supermarket said it was already one of the only supermarkets to give its dairy cows access to pasture during the grazing season in the summer months.

But it said the new pledge set a minimum standard – in a move which strengthened the retailer’s “commitment to animal welfare and ensuring a level of consistency across its dairy farms”.

Waitrose agriculture director Heather Jenkins said: “We’ve always required our farmers to graze their dairy herds outside but this move puts in place a minimum benchmark of at least 100 days a year.

Conventional milk sold by Waitrose is produced by a pool of 50 dairy farms in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Buckinghamshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Dorset, Somerset and Devon.

Cows graze on pastures through the summer and during winter they are housed in ventilated barns and fed on a forage-based diet of grass or maize silage.

See also: Public want dairy cows outside, poll shows

Ms Jenkins said: “We’re proud of our commitment and proud of our dairy farmers for the support they have given us with this move to a formal standard.”

“Getting dairy cows outside and on grass pasture whenever possible not only produces great-quality milk but is a key aspect of good animal welfare – something we believe is of the utmost importance.”

The move has been praised by animal welfare campaigners but met with a mixed reaction from dairy farmers, not least because many cows spend much more than 100 days a year outside.

Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), said he had “nothing but praise” for Waitrose on their milk commitment.

“Waitrose remains one of the leaders in the proverbial herd when it comes to their liquid milk. I think that most consumers presume that all dairy cows are allowed out on pasture.

“Sadly, this simply isn’t the case. In terms of dairy cow welfare, Waitrose delivers what its customers expect and what the cows need to live a happier, healthier life.”

Brian Barnett, chairman of the Waitrose Dairy Farmers Group, said there was a shared commitment to ensuring that dairy cows were able to enjoy outside pasture for at least 100 days a year.

“Grazing cattle has always been important to us and we are pleased to be able to embed this requirement as a benchmark for our milk supply group.”

But Cumbria dairy farmer Kevin Beaty suggested that grazing cows outside for at least 100 days a year was nothing new.

“I thought they already did this,” he wrote on Twitter.

Cheshire farmer Phil Latham said the Waitrose move appeared to show that lobbying by CIWF had worked regardless of the lack of objectivity of key performance indicators.

Amanda Ball, strategy director for AHDB Dairy, tweeted: “Having [a] point of difference I get but it’s implied comments that welfare poorer in other systems I don’t agree with.”