Giant herds are unlikely in the UK

8 May 1998

Giant herds are unlikely in the UK

THE PROSPECT of having 1000-cow dairy herds in the UK in the future is highly unlikely, according to Bridget Drew, dairy director of ADAS Bridgets, Winchester, Hants.

Speaking at the Cirencester Conference on opportunities in agriculture, she said that there was little evidence from current trends to suggest that a major expansion in herd size was likely. Only 3% of UK herds were over 200 cows in England and Wales in 1996.

Dr Drew explained that there were undoubtedly economies of scale with large herds but doubted whether these would extend much beyond 250-300 cows in one unit. There were benefits to be made, however, by sharing infrastructure and machinery costs between a number of large cow units under a single ownership and management.

Although the largest 10% of herds recorded in the ADAS Milk cheque annual report showed better yields at 6718 litres a cow compared with the average 6384 litres a cow, fertility and health were more difficult to manage in larger herds. The key to future profitability, she said, was to aim for a low herd replacement rate.

She also said that the acceptability of having 1000-cow herds in the UK was also unlikely to both the consumer, who would consider it to be factory farming, and there would be difficulties with the planning authorities.

Large herds in southern California – averaging 1257 cows, yielding 8400 litres a cow, with a herd replacement of 30%, where feed cost represent 54% on milk sales and labour costs £126 a cow – were only possible because of climate, soil type which favours large feed lot-type units, less slurry and cheap labour employed to milk rather than manage cows.

Dr Drew said that the only reason for Bridgets dairy herd expansion from 650 to 800 cows in the future was to fulfil an ever expanding research programme.

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