Learning objectives To recognise there are differences between farming systems. To understand the importance of cow health and welfare, regardless of the different farming systems used.
Farm sizes There are 15,700 dairy farms across the UK. The majority of farms are located in the western parts of the British Isles where the warm wet climate gives ideal conditions for grass growth. Dairy farms are all different shapes and sizes, with small herds of 50 cows to farms with more than 1,000+ cows. Farms in Britain vary in style and size. Find our more …
Large farms Some dairy farms will have over 1,000 dairy cows on the farm at the one time. Similar farming techniques are still used, but on a bigger scale. It is important to remember, regardless of the size of the dairy farm, the health and welfare of the cows remain the farmer’s top priority.
Housing In the winter and during bad weather, most British dairy cows are housed. Sheds are designed to be extremely spacious and airy, allowing the cows to rest, stand and move around freely to exercise and socialise. Sheds are carefully designed to ensure that the 'Five Freedoms' are met, and to maintain the health and welfare of the cows. Find our more …
All-year-round housing All-year-round housing is where dairy cow’s stay indoors throughout the year. Each housing system must be approved by the Assured Dairy Farms (ADF) scheme to ensure cows enjoy the five freedoms. These are: from hunger and thirst; from discomfort; from pain, injury or disease; to express normal behaviour; from fear and distress.
Diet The majority of British dairy cows eat grass during the summer and silage (preserved grass or maize) in the winter. This is usually supplemented with dry feeds such as cereals and protein feeds with added vitamins and minerals. Find our more …
Diet The amount of food and water consumed by dairy cows depends on factors such as the breed, age. size and stage of lactation. This is why many farmers use specialist advice to develop the correct diet. Each dairy cow eats between 25 and 50 kg of feed per day. A dairy cow needs at least 60 litres of water per day, and may need up to 100 litres or more depending on how much milk is being produced through lactation.
Udder control Despite the variety of farm size and farming techniques, all dairy cow farmers meet with veterinarians and animal nutritionists to ensure a good standard of health and welfare for their cows. Each farm has regular ‘herd health checks’ and each cow has a cattle passport.
Male calves The balance of nature dictates that on average an equal number of male and female calves are born to dairy cows. Most dairy famers have the option to either rear the male calves for beef, if suitable, or sell these for veal. Official estimates indicate that more than three quarters of all male calves born to the dairy herd are reared for beef in the UK.
Milking The frequency of milking varies from farm to farm and depends on the type of parlour used, the stage of lactation and milk yield. A higher milking frequency does not relate to a higher yield of milk, nor is it uncomfortable for the cows. Dairy cows would feed their calves naturally at four to six hourly intervals. Find our more …
Herringbone style milking In a herringbone parlour, the cows line up beside each other at an angle so the farmer can access the udders from his position in a sunken pit. In some parlours, cows receive feed while being milked.
Rotary parlour In a rotary parlour the cow stands on a circular raised platform, allowing the farmer to attach the milking machine from below. The platform rotates slowly, allowing cows to enter and exit the platform individually once they are milked.
Robotic milking This is an entirely automated milking system, allowing the cows to choose when to be milked. The milking machine automatically connects to the cow’s teats and turns off when the milking is complete. A safety mechanism prevents the cows being milked only a certain number of times each day.
Organic dairy farms Animal health and welfare are essential to all farmers, whether farming conventionally or organically. Cows on an organic farm have a natural forage based diet. Like cows in other farms, they graze outside in the summer and are fed in sheds in the winter. The grass and dry feed they consume is grown solely using organic fertilisers. This can be challenging for the farmer, as bad weather and weeds can damage the crop. They grow beneficial plants, like clover, which impart essential nitrates back into the soil.
Summary Farming techniques and the size of dairy farms will differ around the UK. Although different feed, housing and milking parlours may be used, the health and welfare of the dairy cows remains the highest priority for farmers.
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Question 1 True or false? Cow health and welfare is a farmer’s number one priority regardless of the different farming systems used. A. True B. False
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Question 2 Which one of the following is NOT a common characteristic of a cow shed? A. Allows the cows to rest or stand up. B. Extremely spacious and airy. C. Airtight to keep the cows warm in winter. D. Allows the cows space to exercise or socialise.
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Question 3 Which of the following factors does NOT affect the amount of food and water the cows consumes? A. The price of food and water. B. The breed of the cow. C. The age of the cow. D. The stage of lactation.
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Question 4 Which style of milking parlour is where the cows line up at an angle so that the farmer can milk the cows from his position in a sunken pit? A. Robotic milking parlour B. Rotary milking parlour C. Herringbone style milking parlour D. Rectangular milking parlour
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Question 5 What is the main feature of organic farming which differs from conventional farming techniques? A. The grass and dry feed is solely grown using organic fertilisers. B. The cow health and welfare is the number one priority for the farmer. C. Farmers plant clover in fields to reduce the use of fertilisers. D. The cows are housed during the winter to protect them.
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