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We don't need Mega-dairies

News Section Icon Published 24/01/2012

A new report on UK dairy farming has concluded that it is possible to produce milk at a profit on all sizes of farm. What's more, it found the amount of milk each cow produces isn't the key factor in making profit.

These findings mean huge zero-graze dairies, where cows are pushed to their limit to produce ever higher amounts of milk, aren't necessary for dairy farmers to make money. That damages the credibility of the "bigger is better" argument for zero-graze mega-dairies with high yielding cows.

Profiting from efficient milk production

The report, ' Profiting from efficient milk production', was produced by Dairy Co, a not-for-profit organisation set up to help dairy farmers "solve market failure" in the industry. It outlines the key findings of its Milkbench+ programme, which allows farmers to benchmark their dairy's performance against others.

It concludes: "Milk can be produced efficiently from any of the major systems that are currently practised in Britain. Moreover, efficient milk production is possible at almost any scale of production."

Cows Belong in Fields

This makes encouraging reading for everyone who believes, like Compassion in World Farming, that cows belong in fields, as it confirms industrial dairying is not the only viable model for dairy farming in the UK. Traditional dairy farming, where cows are allowed outside to graze on pasture, is just as economically feasible.

Compassion's CEO Philip Lymbery explains: "There is ample evidence that a cow's welfare is better served by being pasture fed in the field, that's where they belong, after all. With this new report saying it's just as viable, there's really no need to consider keeping cows indoors all year round.

"We can have a humane and sustainable dairy industry that is profitable."

The report says that "Average yield per cow is not the main driver of profit", which is particularly encouraging, as pushing cows to produce ever-higher quantities of milk is damaging to their welfare.

As a scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) says: "Long term genetic selection for high milk yield is the major factor causing poor welfare, in particular health problems, in dairy cows."

And the extensive data collected by Dairy Co prove that cows do not need to be pushed to their physical limit in order for a dairy farmer to run a profitable farm.

Perhaps one of the most heartening conclusions of the market assessment is that the cost of production is key to profit.

A report by the Beyond Calf Exports Stakeholders Forum, of which Compassion is a member, shows feed costs (one of the major costs of dairy farming) are lower in robust, lower yielding dairy cows, which can be fed on pasture.

The Forum report also showed the culling rate was lower in herds of lower yielding cows allowed to graze in fields and replacement costs are another major factor in the cost of production.

Compassion's campaign against the Nocton Dairies proposal last year, which won us an Observer Ethical Campaigner of the Year award, was firmly based on the conviction that access to well managed pasture wherever possible is essential to dairy cow welfare.

Put in other words, EFSA say: "If dairy cows are not kept on pasture for parts of the year, i.e. they are permanently on a zero-grazing system, there is an increased risk of lameness, hoof problems, teat tramp, mastitis, metritis, dystocia, ketosis, retained placenta and some bacterial infections."

Compassion welcomes the 'Profiting from efficient milk production' report as a valuable contribution to the essential debate on dairy farming in this country and further proof that industrial dairying is not inevitable.

Cows belong in fields, there is no economic reason why they shouldn't stay there.

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