28 March 2000
Cows suffer as dairy crisis deepens
By FWi staff
ONE in five dairy cows are suffering from over-work as cash-strapped farmers push them ever harder to produce more milk, a leading vet has claimed.
Animals are exhausted and emaciated as they produce higher yields than ever before, said Professor John Webster of the University of Bath veterinary school.
To achieve such output this “ultimate exploited mother” needs a high-quality diet, and when this is unavailable, its health starts to suffer.
Based on recent research on lameness, Prof Webster estimated that 20% of dairy cows in Britain could be affected.
A system which rewards good welfare instead of pushing farmers to produce ever-cheaper milk is needed to tackle this problem, he says.
“Farmers are under severe pressure and when farmers are under the pressure, it is cows which essentially pay,” he told the Farming Today on Radio 4.
“I would hugely applaud any system that rewarded farmers for increasing the tender loving care to their cows, so would farmers. Theyd be delighted.”
Prof Webster said everybody could be a winner if this strategy was followed, and called for supermarkets to consider it.
The public would get higher welfare standards, supermarkets could sell higher-welfare products and farmers would no longer have to produce “dirt-cheap milk”.
Farmgate prices have fallen to their lowest for 30 years in real terms while supermarkets prices have remained steady.
Lancashire dairy farmer John Loftus, who heads the Federation of Milk Producers, admitted that the current slump would ultimately affect welfare.
“Those under serious pressure will have to cut corners to decide which bill you can afford to pay. The pressure on the farm will eventually get through to the cattle as well.”
Farming Today conducted a straw poll asking supermarkets if they would force their processors pay farmers more for milk.
Tesco and Sainsburys, two of the countrys biggest supermarkets, said they had no plans to pay farmers more for milk.
Asda said it would not accept a fall in the amount farmers receive. Waitrose said it would give the same price to farmers until the end of April.