Dairy farming in the UK offers a range of different farm systems. They run from small scale, extensive units where animals are exclusively grazed, to more intensive units, where cows may be housed for all or part of their lactation.
A farmer’s choice of system will depend upon the resources and space available on the farm, the characteristics of the milk required by the purchaser and the capital available.
The choice of system is the farmer’s, but whether the unit is large or small, fully grazed or indoor, animal health and welfare are key concerns.
All available research indicates that good husbandry, not farming system or scale of operation, determines animal health and welfare. Good stockmanship, farm management and adherence to farm assurance standards, can ensure that cows are well kept in any system. In order to prosper, the industry must be given the opportunity to examine the potential of large scale production systems and be able to invest in them.
UK dairy farming is internationally competitive with considerable latent capacity for growth. This puts the industry in a strong position to exploit growing export opportunities and to make a major contribution to global food security. Dairy farming is restructuring and relocating to optimise efficiency.
Production is becoming increasingly concentrated in the southwest and northwest of England, mainly Devon, Somerset, Cheshire and Cumbria. There is also a significant movement in volume from England to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, indicating increasing production in these countries.
Milk production follows a seasonal trend, with traditional peak production time in May after the calving season and a trough in October/November as grass becomes poorer.
Weather conditions can have a big impact, and the level of butterfat and protein in milk also varies seasonally.
The seasonality of milk production has significantly improved since the 1980s, which reflects a sustained effort by the industry to incentivise a flatter profile of production. This reflects the importance of maintaining a continuous supply of milk for the UK fresh product markets, particularly liquid milk, which accounts for half of milk utilisation.
More information on dairy farming is available at thisisdairyfarming.com