Animal Aid

UK cows under greater pressure to produce more milk per animal

Posted 28 March 2014

New figures released by the government reveal that UK milk production is rising at a faster rate than the size of the national dairy herd, meaning cows are being made to produce more milk per animal.

Nationwide deliveries of milk during February were up more than 11 per cent compared with a year ago, according to the Rural Payments Agency, whilst figures from Defra show that the national dairy herd grew by just 1.5 per cent throughout 2013. This is clear evidence of the increasing intensification of dairy farming, which can have serious health implications for the cows.

Cows have been selectively bred to produce unnaturally high quantities of milk. Producing yet more milk strips their bodies of essential minerals, including calcium and magnesium. It also leaves cows more prone to diseases such as mastitis – a painful infection of the udders. An expanding national dairy herd means more calves – essentially seen as an unwanted by-product – being killed at a young age as well.

This is just part of a wider problem of increased intensification in the dairy industry. We are already seeing a growing number of zero-grazing farms where cows are confined to sheds for all or most of the time. Under such conditions cows are unable to express many of their natural behaviours and diseases can spread rapidly in the crowded and often dirty conditions.

Mega-dairies with herds of 1,000+ cows are also a growing problem. With such large numbers of animals, it is impossible to ensure the wellbeing of every individual, resulting in sickness and injury going untreated. Cows are being treated as units of production to make money at the lowest possible cost to the farmer, rather than living creatures capable of suffering.

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