Farmers split over 'super dairies'

THE FARMING industry is split in its reaction to ‘super dairies’ like the one proposed by Nocton Dairies, a Farmers Guardian survey has found.

Asking farmers at the Dairy Event and Livestock Show about so-called ‘super dairies’ where cows would be housed for much of the year, some 58 per cent said they were acceptable.

Of more than 600 visitors to the show questioned, a further 42 per cent however said they did not agree with the idea.

Here are some of your comments from the event:

Derek Hicks, Cambridgeshire – beef farmer

“One thousand cows should be the limit. Anything over that is factory farming. We’ve seen it with chickens and pigs and it doesn’t work. The environmental impact must be significant, lorries coming in an our all the time. Then there’s feed - the logistics of it must be huge. Also it does not give young ones trying to break into the industry a chance.”

Steven Williams, Oswestry – dairy framer

“All these massive farms are going to kill off the small farms. There’s a risk milk companies will take all their milk instead of from small farms because it will be easier and it will kill off the villages in the same way supermarkets led to small shops closing.

However, he was keen to stress he did not object to them at all on welfare grounds. “There will be nothing wrong with the healthcare of the animals on them because they will be able to afford to have all the stuff to look after them.”


“I think these huge farms are bad for PR, bad for the environment and they might be bad for my business. Up to 400-cow herds are big enough. That’s enough cows in one place - cows need air space and room.

Anonymous dairy farmer – manages 650 cows.

“As long as they look after the cows and it is done properly, I think large-scale herds are very good. I always think farmers are their own worst enemies. The Nocton group have got themselves into this predicament.”

Asked what the industry should do in response to animal welfare campaigns against large-scale dairies he said: “You want to talk to them. There needs to be dialogue. There is now a groundswell of feeling on this matter and you have to cater for that. They aren’t going to go away and at the moment there is a lot of ignorance.”

Dairy nutritionist

“It’s the people with the small family farms that are going to suffer. It will knock out small farms leaving a lot of cows in very few hands.” However, having just returned from a tour of large-scale farms in America he said the management on them is ‘second to none,’ whereas a lot of small farms here are terrible cow management.

He felt the industry was not doing enough to promote itself. “We need to start at grassroots level by educating children.”

Digby Gribble of the English Guernsey Cattle Society was very much in favour of the Nocton project believing the cows will have a much better life. As for the risk large dairy farms may pose to smaller farmers, he said it was about them finding a way to make a living by adding value to their products.

Young farmer

“A lot of the trouble is over the welfare but if you look at large cow herds the welfare is better because they can afford it, they vets on site etc.”

She too felt the industry was not doing enough to promote itself. “We need to educate people. At the Great Yorkshire this year we had members of the public coming up criticising the cows, asking why they looked malnourished. We heard people walking past whispering to each other that we were starving the cows. We had to explain to them that they are like athletes. The public don’t understand the industry and we need to explain it more.

Readers' comments (7)

  • With the prospect of an 8,000 super dairy being built just a mile from our village, I have been taking a much closer look at the dairy industry than I would otherwise.
    It would seem that over the last 5 or 10 years there has been a trend to the larger dairy herd in excess of 1,000 to take advantage of new technology and economies of scale.

    However, it is only with the prospect of the largest dairy in Europe being built in Lincolnshire -an area used to arable farming and not dairy - with a vociferous opposition from villagers -that the media has begun to focus on this type of "factory" farming for milk.

    Why has there been no opposition to the introduction of the 1,000 plus dairies so far? Why has there been no opposition to factory style dairies so far? Did they just evolve with nearby residents used to living near a smaller /traditional dairy not actually being aware of what was on their doorstep? Was the media just not interested with focus on opposing battery chickens? We, the public, seem to have been totally unaware that the Supermarkets demand for cheaper supplies have forced the dairy farmer into factory style farming?

    Don't blame the housewife/shopper for wanting cheap milk. We just pay the price -yes, we shop arround for the best deal but we certainly have no influence on the prices charged by the supermarket or the ridiculously low prices they pay to the farmer.

    Nocton Dairies Ltd's proposal for an 8,000 plus dairy here in Lincolnshire has brought this to the fore in the national media. They are on the receiving end of all the adverse publicity and local opposition. Now it is out in the open - it is time to have a national debate on whether we in the UK want this sort of factory farming here in the UK.
    It is time for Parliament to listen to the general population and consider legislation to limit the size of dairies and the distance they can be built from existing communities.

    Having recently visited a 2,000 dairy, I agree with other comments that the cows are probably far better cared for than on many smaller traditional farms.

    I do not want an 8,000 dairy on in my backyard or anywhere else in the UK,.
    You will have your own opinions but if this is considered acceptable by the powers that be - then it is the villagers in Dunston, Nocton, Potterhanworth, Metheringham,
    Mere, Scopwick & Branston that have to live with it.

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  • I wonder if anyone managed to watch Jimmy Doherty's Farming Heroes - probably a repeat programme shown on BBC in the early hours Monday morning. Unfortunately I was awake worrying about this pending Factory Farm coming to my village. Anyhow the programme was about a woman's dairy herd of about 40 GRAZING cows I think. They conducted an experiment to find out how cows socialise and if they are intelligent. Having applied a radio tagging system they discovered that one cow called Rosie was an exceptional networker. She visited almost all of her peers with a lick or a sniff and as a consequence of her social skills she was able to lead them in any direction she felt necessary. This is proof that small herds are important social systems. In the second experiment one of two cows were trained to ring a bell for her feed. Unfortunately the other cow just wasn't interested in this game but - one out of every two cows in an 8000 herd will be bitterly disappointed that they have no say in the matter!

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  • A new dairy industry is dawning. In charge of animal welfare is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The future of sustainable British dairy farming is in the hands of Prince Charles. Also on the team are Robin Page and Graham Harvey. A small number of like-minded dairy farmers would complete the line up. Milk from grass would be the theme with sensibly sized manageable herds of mixed breed cows the norm. Cow welfare of paramount importance, the minimum life expectancy of 10 years and more would typical. The farmer owned dairy processors supply quality dairy products to the nation at sustainable prices to the farmer and everyone's happy. Does sound sugar-coated I know. But surely this alternative is closer to where the British dairy farming model should be heading rather than the Nocton Dairies factory farm route.

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  • Yes!!, I can now buy milk from cows that ring bells and that get talked to by Prince Charles. Julie I am awake also because I cannot stop thinking of how Rosie may or may not ring her bell, will it be her muzzle or tongue??
    On a serious note, this is ridiculous, I lived in a city for some years and in the country. Yes I knew everyone in my local village but not the city- but I did not go hungry or miss out on socialisation (quite the opposite). Bell ringing for food may be popular among some local residents in Nocton but I am not sure cows are into it.

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  • I see Hugh FeeWee speaks 'cow' or should I say 'bullocks!' Julie from Nocton makes some valid points from the programme she watched regarding cow behaviour. We as humans have become desensitised from that what really matters. The industrialisation of agricultural does deliver in terms of quantity, but we have lost our way in the pursuit of more. We now need to look back and learn from the past (mixed farming and good old fashioned grassland management) before we proceed to the future. Super-sizing dairy farms is not the way forward. Too big, too expensive, too intensive and too polluting.

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  • Super-sized dairy factory farms will solely profit the owners, but in the process exhaust their poor milking cows, render smaller dairy farms uneconomic, pollute the air and water of the surrounding countryside and further Britain's reliance upon big corporate agribusinesses to produce our food. I think many people are fed up with the super-sizing of everything in farming as driven and supported by self interested politicians, scientists, and city backed corporate farming. Big dairying is all about the money, increasing market share by pricing out the little man and overly commodifying a natural food product at the expense of quality.

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  • I hadn't realised you'd now become a fiction publication Editor. . Tell your survey team, the real farmers are the ones with very large hands and callouses. . The other ones were all Common Purpose graduates that are hoping to be able to pick up a cheap farm from the Official Receiver where they can entertain their EU buddies, or otherwise turn it into a Golf Course.
    . . . . . . . . . Best Regards
    .................................Charles Henry

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