Scottish dairy herd numbers are at their lowest since records began 110 years ago. There are just 993 dairy herds in Scotland with an average herd size of 165 cows.

Today the national dairy herd totals 163,637 cows while in 1903 there were 5,735 dairy herds with 223,666 cows and an average herd size of 39 cows.

Figures released by the Scottish Dairy Cattle Association show a net loss of 18 dairy herds on the year, although it said a number of new herds had begun production, especially in the South West. The losses were mostly evenly spread throughout the country, with Dumfriesshire reducing by six herds and Wigtownshire gaining three. Ayrshire has the highest number of cows and herds, with 34,040 cows in 236 herds.

“From the dairy farmer’s point of view, 2013 was a much better year weather-wise, but also financially, with milk prices getting nearer a realistic level and feed being more plentiful than the previous year,” said SDCA secretary Janette Mathie. “Otherwise the number of herds giving up would have been much greater, but the trend of higher returns will have to continue to maintain the present overall production.”

It was positive that dairy cattle numbers were being maintained in Scotland, said NFU Scotland’s milk policy manager George Jamieson, while new entrants to dairy were a pleasant sign that the prospects for the dairy sector were encouraging.

“There are signs and a belief that going forward there may be better times ahead for the whole Scottish dairy sector, but this will be founded on a better and more secure future for those producing the milk,” he said.

“Dropping below 1,000 dairy farmers in Scotland is a sad reflection on the UK dairy supply chain, which has failed to instil confidence in producers that they will receive a reasonable share of the supply chain value.

“With the voluntary code of practice there is a genuine opportunity to deliver the kind of transparency and trust to inspire a collaborative supply chain that is fit for the challenges and opportunities ahead.

“The Scottish dairy review and the code are two opportunities that must not be wasted, as they could ensure that the next report from the SDCA highlights an upturn in our production base,” Mr Jamieson said.

(More on the Scottish dairy industry)