Dairy farming in the UK

We campaign to stop the spread of factory dairy farming in the UK because we are concerned about the welfare of cows in these farms.

Seeing cows grazing in fields is one of the treasured sights of the UK’s countryside. However, this sight could disappear altogether as struggling dairy farmers come under pressure to change to more intensive farming methods, housing their cows in sheds for the majority, if not all of their lives, putting cow welfare at risk. Grazing on pasture also means cows can express their natural behaviour more easily, enabling them to move around freely, interacting with each other in small groups, suiting their sociable nature and the way that herd hierarchies are structured.

The threat of intensive dairy farming

  • Cows that are kept indoors all year round face an increased risk of lameness and painful udder infections like mastitis.
  • Overcrowding and constant regrouping in intensive systems can cause anxiety and aggression in cows.
  • Cows that are kept indoors all year round cannot express many natural behaviours.
  • Cows in intensive systems are pushed to their physical limits to produce such high quantities of milk.

There may be more intensive milk being produced in the UK than many people realise, but getting exact figures is difficult. We believe it is important that we know how many intensive dairy farms there are, how many cows are in these farms and how much intensive milk is being produced.

In some countries factory dairy farming has grown rapidly. In Denmark 85% of farms were grazing cows on grass in 2001, but by 2010 this had reduced to just 35%.

In the US the majority of dairy farms are industrial-scale indoor systems which can house tens of thousands of cows. The vast numbers of cows crammed inside these US-style factory dairies, are at greater risk of health problems including mastitis, lameness and infertility. They can also become physically exhausted because intensive systems means they can be milked more frequently.  Unable to move around freely, their natural behaviour is restricted, so some cows can become stressed and aggressive. Milked around the clock with little or no access to the outdoors, the lives of these ‘battery cows’ is a far cry from those in the UK that are able to graze in fields.

We want to champion the UK’s pasture based dairy farmers who graze their cows on grass, providing milk that is produced in a way that a huge majority of consumers support. In our recent poll 86% of UK adults agreed that dairy cows in the UK should be able to graze on pasture (i.e. allowed to graze outdoors in fields) and should not be permanently housed indoors.

Our campaigns to halt the spread of factory dairy farms

Not in My Cuppa
In 2010 we began the Not in My Cuppa campaign to fight against proposals to build an intensive indoor dairy in Nocton, Lincolnshire that planned to house over 8,000 cows in sheds. The plans were refused permission.

Keeping cows on grass in Europe
In 2012, following the success of our UK campaign against factory dairy farming, we decided to take our campaign on cow welfare Europe wide. Almost 300,000 European citizens signed a petition to say that they wanted to keep cows on grass and that cow welfare standards needed to be better addressed by the European Union.

Helping communities affected by factory dairy farms
In 2012 members of the community of Lower Leighton, a small village in Wales, approached us for help after proposals were put forward to build a 1000-cow factory dairy farm next to the village school. The Welsh Assembly planning minister approved the plans, against the advice of the planning inspector and the local authority. We filed a challenge in the High Court seeking clarity about the how the minister made the decision – but in June 2014 this went against us.

Find out more about our dairy cow research

Temperature of a cow’s nose can reveal inner emotions >>
Cow's ear positions tell us how they're feeling >>
Cow's eyes reveal how they are feeling >>

How are we going to improve dairy cow welfare in the UK?

We are going to:

  • Raise awareness of how intensive indoor dairy farming can affect cow welfare
  • Demonstrate there is a strong consumer demand for free range milk
  • Work with food businesses to provide a commitment to source and clearly label milk from high welfare pasture based dairy farms
  • Call on the UK and devolved governments to provide better support for pasture based dairy farming
  • Work with other animal welfare organisations and farming industry stakeholders to support and promote pasture based milk production

Tell the world:


#FullFactMilk: Over 100 MPs call for the facts!

We all want to know how our milk is produced.

The Government doesn't publish information on how many intensive dairy farms there are in the UK, or where they are located.

Thanks to you over 100 MPs signed the Early Day Motion asking the Government to reveal how our milk is produced and where it comes from.

We will be working with these MPs to persuade the Government to collect this information.