How big is too big for livestock farms?

The Livestock Event 2013 saw a debate on how big is big when it comes to livestock enterprises. Farmers Weekly asked five visitors for their views on large-scale livestock farming

Thomas Steele, Dairy farmer, Kircubbin, County Down. Milks 450 cows

thomas steele

Although 450 is the optimum on my farm, how big is big isn’t really about numbers. It’s about margins per cow. I would rather have 400 good quality cows than a not so good 500.

Management is key to good welfare regardless of farm size and you can often find there is more attention to detail on bigger farms.

Dave Done, Wrexham North Wales, 100-120 cows

Dave done

I suppose it depends on the farm and it depends on how you farm it.

I would say anything over 800 cows is too big really because then it starts getting more like a factory than a farm. You start to have concerns about welfare.”


Robert Craig, Dairy farmer, Eden Valley, Cumbria. Milks 900 cows and 400 followers

robert craig

I haven’t got a problem with intensive farming. I wouldn’t regard 1,000 as a big number.

The size of farm is immaterial if it is operated correctly. It’s in nobody’s interest for cows to be kept in the wrong way.

What I have a concern about is that the industry has been poor in getting its message across. We have been a little bit shy about communicating with the public.


David Alvis, Winstone Agribusiness Consulting

Welfare concerns are a red herring when it comes to intensive farming. The standards of animal welfare are outstanding in farms of 1,000 cows.

The stock is superb in farms where animals are kept indoors 365 days of the year.

However, there are constraints in the UK on intensive farming, not because of the numbers but because of the population density. Realistically, 2,000-3,000 is the maximum size of dairy farm you could have in the UK.

There are not many sites where you can have farms this big. People get very anxious about the noise and visual impact of these larger farms.


Sandy Milne, Dairy farmer, Angus, Scotland. 400 cows

sandy milne

Size of herd is not the issue. When the herd is managed well numbers are not important, whether it’s a herd of 50 or 1,000.

Welfare standards do not necessarily suffer with bigger herds. Geographical location can sometimes be the primary factor in determining whether dairy farming is intensive or extensive.

David Cotton, Dairy farmer, Somerset. 510 cattle

dave cotton

I don’t believe it matters whether a farm is extensive or intensive nor does the size matter. It’s how you make use of your resources that matters.

Five hundred animals is a big number in terms of intensive farming, but I have no issue with farming 1,000 animals provided the business is run properly.

Welfare can even be better on some large scale farms as the environment is more controlled.

More on this issue

Livestock Event 2013 coverage