“Cows do not belong in fields,” suggested a representative of Nocton Dairies in a recent interview with BBC Radio Humberside. Later in the interview, he appeared to back-track, perhaps realising that this suggestion would not play well with the public (listen to the interview here and here). Nevertheless, the proposal remains that most of the Nocton cows are likely to receive only minimal grazing.
The industrialisation of dairy farming in the UK was subject to hot debate on this weekend’s BBC Countryfile programme. Our dairy expert, Phil Brooke, put the case that dairy farming should resist the industrialisation route in favour of keeping cows grazing on grass as nature intended. This comes against the backdrop of a proposal for an 8,000 cow ‘super’ dairy in Lincolnshire. The future of Britain’s dairy industry now appears to be at a crossroads…
The notion that cows don’t belong in fields flies in the face of the scientific evidence. A 2009 Scientific Opinion by the European Food Safety Authority recommended that dairy cows should be given access to well managed pasture or other suitable outdoor conditions at least during summer or dry weather.
Nocton Dairies seeks planning permission to build a £50 million ‘super’ dairy, as it’s been described, for 8,100 cows near the ancient Lincolnshire village of Nocton, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. If built, it will become the UK’s largest dairy farm. The proposal is to accommodate the 8,100 cows in eight buildings. The cows will be kept in groups of 500. They will be taken from their pens to be milked three times a day on two rotating parlours.
In my earlier blog about the proposed super dairy I wrote that it flew in the face of welfare-friendly farming and the wish of consumers for more ethical food. The central issue for us would of course be the welfare of the proposed 8,100 cows.
Since our launch in 1967 by ex-dairy farmers Peter and Anna Roberts, Compassion has worked tirelessly against industrialised farming, be it in the pig and poultry farming, and now perhaps with dairy. Our core belief is that the welfare needs of the individual animal should be protected. As Peter Roberts once put it to me, “where the individuality of an animal ends, factory farming begins.” Factory farming is all about the economics of scale. The needs of individual animals are often seen as unimportant in relation to the financial productivity of a herd or flock. It is a model that society is increasingly frowning upon. And, judging by the feedback by the local people interviewed on the Countryfile programme, the proposed ‘super’ dairy is no exception.
Apparently based on a US model, opposition to this type of dairy farm isn’t unique. In New Zealand, Prime Minister John Key warned last year that a proposal to build a super dairy with some 18,000 cows kept in cubicles could undermine the country’s “reputation for ethical production.”
Dairy farming in the UK is at a crossroads. To me, the central question is, do we really want less family dairy farms and more super dairy farms? If you haven’t already done so, please ask your MP to sign Early Day Motion (EDM) 1037 entitled “Large-scale dairy units.”
“That this House is firmly opposed to the proposed dairy unit in Lincolnshire housing up to 8,100 cows that will be kept indoors for most of the year; notes that the cows are likely to produce extremely high milk yields; further notes that the key finding of a 2009 scientific opinion by the European Food Safety Authority is that breeding for high milk yield is the major factor causing poor welfare to cows; believes that cows should be farmed in pasture-based systems as these enable them to express natural behaviors and are associated with lower levels of lameness; further believes that the proposed unit is taking UK dairy farming in the wrong direction and that the way forward lies in the use of healthy robust herds with lower milk yields but higher net margins for farmers due to lower culling rates, lower heifer replacement costs and higher sale prices for their calves and cull cows; and urges retailers and producers of dairy products not to source milk from such large-scale intensive dairy units where cows receive only minimal grazing.”
Thank you for supporting our campaign. Together, we can help to keep cows grazing in the way nature intended and stop overzealous industrialisation that threatens both existing dairy farming and animal welfare.