The Two Faces of Dairy Farming in the UK

The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but rather, “Can they suffer?”  (Jeremy Bentham)

I was delighted to learn last week that the good people of Farmaround are offering “Slaughter Free Milk”. Here’s the blurb from their website:

Dairy cows have an average life expectancy of 17 years. However, once they have reached their peak dairy producing age at around four to five years old, they are generally sold for slaughter. Aside from their curtailed life, a dairy cow is forced to bear a calf every year which will then be taken away from her immediately or within a few days of birth, distressing both the calf and the mother. A young male calf would then either be shot, or fattened up for veal; female calves are either shot, fattened for veal or reared on powdered milk to eventually enter the dairy herd to continue the cycle of intensive milk production.

Cows raised under the slaughter-free scheme will have a different life altogether. In partnership with a Norfolk farm and The Ahisma Dairy Foundation, our slaughter-free milk will come from a herd of Jersey cows. Any cow born into this herd will live out their full lives. There will be no slaughter, and calves will continue to feed from their mothers until they are naturally weaned.

A Dairy Cow

Can They Suffer?

By contrast, plans are afoot to bring zero-grazing factory dairy farming to the UK in Lincolnshire and time is running out for people to make their views known on this practice and do something to stop it. The zero-grazing approach to dairy is a lot more “factory” than “farm” as the animals never walk on or eat grass and would be lucky to even see it. It is the exploitation of animals for our own greed, taken to its extreme. I would go as far as to say that if we allow this to happen in our “green and pleasant” land we will significantly lose our right to call ourselves a “civilised” nation. When we become so disengaged from the means of our sustenance (food production) we can pretend that the cruelty has nothing to do with us.

Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.  (Albert Schweitzer)

Plans to open a couple of these enormous production plants that use animals as machines are imminently in the hands of county planners. According to Martin Hickman in The Independent last month, the first wave of proposals by Nocton Dairies in Lincolnshire has been withdrawn thanks to popular outrage. However, the campaign against zero-grazing dairy facilities needs continuing support as that is only a fleeting triumph in an ongoing war of attrition and plans are being revised and re-submitted.

Please look at a couple of the informative links below and consider signing the petition, giving up dairy products, switching to cruelty-free milk, donating to Compassion In World Farming, posting a blog or using whatever platform you have.


Nocton Dairies Planning Application – summary of the key arguments.

Revealed: How ‘zero-grazing’ is set to bring US-style factory farming to Britain in The Independent.

Michael McCarthy in The Independent: How long before we see indoor units of up to 40,000 cows?

Friends of the Earth: Fix The Foodchain Campaign.

Petition at 38 Degrees


7 Responses

  1. I think it is very sad your prospective of the dairy business. You who have no understanding of the dairy business or cows from the look of it. All this ani$mal rights stuff is really truly very sad. For your info not all calves are on ” Powdered Milk”. It is actually called milk replacer. It is no different than a mother putting her baby on formula. Should we talk negatively of women who formula feed their babies??? To boot, you mention the terrible fact that calves are removed from their mothers. Do you understand that the calves at a dairy are better treated and cared for than those calves that are raised on their mothers. Not all mother cows have mother instincts and on the ranch I have witnessed enough calf deaths due to the fact the mother either did not get the calf to suck or got kicked to death. When are you people going to realize that a cow is an animal. With animal instincts. It is not a human. People are so removed from their food these days it is aggravating. They malnurish their bodies to make a point. Why don’t you take a job on a farm for 6 months and then publish an article with some relevance and real truth. And while your at it get some grain fed beef and eat a steak. Thanks for the article I found it very comicle.

  2. Thank you for your comments, Gypsy. I am open to be and would even like to be persuaded otherwise. In fact I expect to have the opportunity to visit a dairy farm in the next couple of weeks and ask lots of questions. I may be in a position to post another point of view.

    In the meantime, from a personal point of view, I have found that I have felt a lot healthier since giving up dairy products; no more problems with overproduction of mucus, less heartburn/reflux and an overall more comfortable digestive system. In know this is a subjective point of view but I did have a full series of blood tests and medical check up recently and there were no signs of malnourishment. Human beings got on very well for millions of years before they domesticated cattle so I don’t think it is essential.

    Well, we keep living and learning. Thank you once again for commenting.


  3. Dear Seymour – I thought this piece summed up much of what I’ve found in research regarding animal welfare – and also found the BBC2 item about cows’ social instincts illuminating. But, sadly, the welfare issues are not going to play any part in determining this appalling application. Environment needs to be at the top of the agenda – the water suppy to the farm and the potential for pollution of a sensitive aquifer. Seeing at first hand in the US what damage can be done by neglect of the latter, where one pollution incident will not be rectified for 2 generations, it’s not something we can allow to happen. The economic case is not convincing and the effects on public health of residents living nearby to the development are also important to consider.

    • Dear Deborah, – thank you very much for your comment. I have checked out the CAFFO website and am really glad that it is providing up-to-date information on the progress of the Nocton applications because I have found it difficult to get accurate details here. I think you are right about needing to concentrate on the potential environmental impact of the proposed factory as well as the welfare issues. It seems that Nocton is focussing on campaigning to reassure people that they will be good for the environment and the local community. However, I was stunned to read in a recent farming trade publication that the average dairy cow requires 100 litres of water a day! Multiply that by the size of the herd and you are looking at a lot of water. That looks like a big problem to me. The same publication also detailed the forage crisis the industry is experiencing this year with not enough hay being harvested to see our national herd through the winter – unfortunately this plays into the hands of CAFO systems which are obviously less susceptible to variation in forage quantity and quality. It’s going to be a hard fight. I hope to be posting about this again soon.

      Keep up the good work 🙂


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