David and Wilma Finlay’s decades long work to make dairy farming kinder to cows and their calves took on a new urgency when Wilma was diagnosed with cancer. 

Together they run The Ethical Dairy at Rainton Farm in south west Scotland and make the famous Cream o’ Galloway ice cream, and they’ll launch a memoir about their lives and their dedication to the environment and animal welfare at the Wigtown Book Festival.

A Dairy Story is the moving and inspirational account of the couple’s efforts to reinvent dairy farming, by designing an alternative to standard industry practice that sees dairy calves being forcibly separated from their mothers within 24 hours of birth. At the Finlay’s farm, the largest ‘cow-with-calf’ dairy in Europe, calves stay with their mum to suckle naturally. 

The couple are also making a stand against the ever-increasing industrialisation of dairy farming, which sees cattle spend their entire lives in mega-sheds, rather than grazing in the UK’s wonderfully rich pastures.

Wilma is determined to tell the world about their pioneering and successful journey away from conventional farming to an organic, 100% pasture, regenerative, cow-with-calf dairy that’s now at the forefront of a global movement to transform an industry. 

She says: “When I met David and moved to the farm I was deeply uncomfortable with removing calves from their mothers so soon after birth. Once we started providing farm tours it became clear that the general public didn’t like normal dairy industry practices either. We believed there must be a better way to do things, so we set out to find it.

“Over the past year we have seen a surge of interest in our system, and at the same time we have been confronted with the stark reality that none of us can take tomorrow for granted. So we are determined to make everything we know accessible to others.  

“I can’t just sit in a corner moping about the hand I’ve been dealt.  For the sake of our planet farming needs to change, and it needs to change quickly. The most important thing we have learned is that change is possible, and that gives us hope.”

Finlays have farmed at Rainton, Gatehouse of Fleet, since the 1920s – and until the 1970s the farm was also well-known for its artisan cheesemaking. One of David and Wilma’s proudest achievements was the revival of traditional cheesemaking on the farm, and, in 2018, the launch their cheese brand, The Ethical Dairy. 

At the heart of their business is an approach to dairy farming, developed over 25 years, that allows calves to stay with their mothers – meaning that Rainton Farm is free from the heart-rending bellowing of mothers when their newborns are taken away.

David said: “Our ethical dairy farming system isn’t just about letting calves stay with their mum, it’s about so much more than that. Our goal is the creation of a circular, regenerative food production system, fed by sunlight and rain, that has a positive environmental impact, delivers nutritious food, provides good quality jobs and works to the highest possible standards of animal welfare. It might not have been easy, but our farm is living proof that it can be done. 

“Following a path of intensification has marched our whole industry into the crosshairs of an oncoming climate war. It’s a path I refuse to walk.”

A Dairy Story is a joint memoir that was completed in June of this year. Publication has been fast-tracked via a successful crowdfunding campaign after Wigtown Book Festival offered to host a launch event.  

The couple, both aged 67, are well known in Galloway for their innovative approach to farm diversification, food production and tourism. The memoir charts the roller-coaster nature of their business journey, including the launch of Cream o’ Galloway and the trauma of the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak. 

It explains why their initial pilot of cow-with-calf dairy nearly ended in bankruptcy and how they figured out how to make the system work, and it charts their personal journey – from dealing with recurring cancer, including her current treatment for Stage 4 lung cancer, to a joint awakening about climate and the environment.   

Under these circumstances it is all the more remarkable that they chose to go against conventional wisdom and practice – risking everything to create a more natural approach to dairy farming, which initially saw yields and income plunge.  

But theirs is a story of success and their practices are increasingly recognised as both economically and environmentally sustainable by academics, researchers and farmers around the world.

The publication of A Dairy Story is part of their wider drive to popularise ethical dairy farming, with hopes high that they will soon produce practical guides for other farmers wanting to follow in their footsteps.

  • Wigtown Book Festival takes place from 24 September to 2 October. The Finlays will be talking about their new book at The County Buildings on Thursday, 29 September at 6pm. Tickets and full programme www.wigtownbookfestival.com

Praise for A Dairy Story

  • “Heart-breaking yet hopeful – a true tale of determination and indefatigable passion for a goal.” Sue Lawrence, author.
  • “The deeply personal story of two quiet, determined visionaries who saw how the world could be different, then went about changing it.” Karen Campbell, author.
  • “When future agriculture students learn about the transformation of dairy farming in the 2030s, this will be required reading.” Pete Ritchie, food campaigner.
  • “This is a tale of resilience, conviction, courage and sensitivity, and it is told with startling honesty.” Helen Browning, CEO, Soil Association and organic farmer.

– Ends –

Notes for editors

About this year’s

Wigtown Book Festival has a vibrant programme of more than 200 events for its annual 10-day annual celebration of all things literary in Scotland’s National Book Town. Among the guests will be:

  • Deacon Blue frontman Ricky Ross (Walking Back Home)
  • Karen Campbell (Paper Cup)
  • Robert Harris (Act of Oblivion)
  • Hannah Jackson, The Red Shepherdess (Call Me Red)
  • Chris Brookmyre (The Cliff House)
  • Gerda Stevenson (Letting Go)
  • Outlander star Graham McTavish (Clanlands)
  • Lisa Jewell & Will Brooker (The Truth About Lisa Jewell)
  • Andrew Cotter: Dog Days (A Year with Olive and Mabel)
  • Chitra Ramaswamy (Homelands)
  • Jeremy Bowen (The Making of the Modern Middle East).

About Scotland’s Year of Stories

  • Led by VisitScotland, the Year of Stories 2022 will sustain and build upon the momentum of preceding Themed Years, showcasing a nationwide programme of major events and community celebrations.
  • From icons of literature to local tales, Scotland’s Year of Stories encourages locals and visitors to experience a diversity of voices, take part in events and explore the places, people and cultures connected to all forms of our stories, past and present.
  • Scotland’s Year of Stories will encourage responsible engagement and inclusive participation from the people of Scotland and our visitors.
  • Join the conversation using #YS2022 and #TalesOfScotland.
  • Following an industry consultation, Themed Years will take place every second year to enable more time for planning and collaboration. The next Themed Year will take place in 2024.

For further information and interview requests contact Matthew Shelley on 07786 704299 or [email protected]

Wigtown Festival Company Ltd, 11 North Main Street, Wigtown, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland, UK, DG8 9HN © 1999 – 2018. Wigtown Festival Company Ltd is a company limited by guarantee with charitable status. Scottish Charity No. SCO37984.