Dairy farming in the UK

We are campaigning to protect dairy cows and stop the spread of factory dairy farming.

Cows in fields remain a common sight in the UK and form part of what we treasure about our countryside. But the welfare of dairy cows is at risk as struggling farmers come under pressure to scale up and switch to more intensive farming methods.

The number of dairy farms in the UK has fallen dramatically to below 10,000. In the 1990’s there were more than 30,000. The majority of these farms have an average herd size of about 120 animals – farms with more than 200 cows are rare.

Dairy farming in the US

Compare this with industrial-scale indoor dairy factories in the United States – which can house tens of thousands of cows. Milked around the clock with little or no access to the outdoors, the welfare of these ‘battery cows’ is a far cry from our impression of dairy farming in the UK.

The vast numbers of exhausted cows crammed inside US-style factory dairies, are at greater risk of health problems like mastitis, lameness and infertility.  Unable to move around freely, their natural behaviour is restricted, so some cows can become stressed and aggressive. 

Grazing on pasture is important for dairy cows. It reduces stress because they can move around more easily in small groups - which suits their sociable nature. 

Find out more about how cow’s ears and noses can tell us how they’re feeling:

The threat of intensive dairy farming

There may be more intensive milk being produced in the UK than many people realise, but getting exact figures is difficult. 

Not in My Cuppa

In 2010 we campaigned against a proposal to build an 8,000 cow intensive dairy in Lincolnshire which was eventually refused planning permission. This was a big step forwards in raising awareness about what the future might look like for our dairy industry. 

Keep cows on grass

After this success, we launched a European campaign to help stop the trend towards intensification and raise awareness of the issue amongst consumers.

Helping communities affected by factory farms

We were approached by the community of Lower Leighton – a small village in Wales. They wanted help with fighting a planning application for a 1,000-cow factory farm next to the village school.

The Welsh Assembly Minister approved plans to build the farm, against the advice of both the planning inspector and the local authority. We filed a High Court challenge seeking clarity about how the Minister had arrived at his decision - but in June 2014 this went against us. 

  • 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.
  • Dairy farming is thirsty work. It can take 990 litres of water to produce just 1 litre of milk! Cows could get 15% more fluid in their diet if fed on pasture and not feed.
  • Cows in intensive systems are pushed to their physical limits to produce such high quantities of milk.

We want to champion pasture based dairy farmers who graze their cows on grass for the majority of the year.

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

We are going to:

  • Raise awareness of how intensive 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
A dairy cow at Worthy Farm

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.