Britain's biggest factory dairy farm poses a huge threat to animal welfare and small scale producers.
Nocton Dairies has submitted a planning application for the UK's largest dairy farm in south Lincolnshire. The intensive system would see 8,100 cows kept indoors while the average UK dairy herd currently has around 70 cows.
Nocton are calling the proposed enterprise "a flagship for the next generation of the UK dairy industry". Yet Compassion in World Farming believes that the thousands of animals involved in these highly intensive indoor systems would be under such pressure to produce huge quantities of milk that they would be at risk from health problems such as lameness, poor body condition and infertility with a likelihood of early slaughter.
Phil Brooke of Compassion in World Farming says: "Cows at this level of productivity are at high risk of a short lifespan. Even if these problems can be avoided by really professional management, the cows will have to be kept indoors, spending most of their time eating enough to maintain their high levels of milk production."
Access to grazing pastures provides the natural food of ruminant animals such as cows but in Nocton's planned American-style, high yield systems, grazing will play a very limited part in their diet, with the cows allowed out only in the short period between lactations and their next pregnancies.
These extremely high yielding cows produce male dairy calves which are generally considered economically unsuitable for beef production and are usually either shot at birth or, if the trade resumes, exported to veal production systems abroad most of which would be illegal in this country on welfare grounds.
Nocton Dairies have said that they will not be shooting male dairy calves. However, the farms they buy their young cows from are likely to need to. Even if calves are not shot at Nocton Dairies, they are dependent on a system which produces male dairy calves which are likely not to be reared for beef, wasteful both of life and an important agricultural product.
In addition to animal welfare concerns, there is the threat to the rural life and the livelihoods of dairy farmers in the UK who face a serious risk of forced closure related to such large scale developments. Small scale producers, with the potential for higher welfare, may be unable to compete with pricing and supply in an already struggling market. Opening one 8,000 cow unit ultimately could mean closing down 100 farms with around 70 cows.
Compassion's Phil Brooke said, "The breeds of cows chosen should be able to sustain production on pasture without health and welfare problems. Their male dairy calves should be bred to be suitable for beef production, in order to avoid exporting them or killing them at birth. We urge the authorities to carefully consider the implications on UK dairy farming were they to grant permission."
Compassion believes dairy production must have a balance which provides a good free-range life for cows and a decent living for small dairy farmers. Consumers should look for organic milk, cheese and butter and ask their supermarkets not to stock dairy products from cows prevented from grazing.
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