Nottingham

Activists worry about welfare at massive UK dairy farm

Herd of dairy cows
Image caption The cows will graze in "loafing" areas on the farm

The farmers behind plans for a 23-hour-a-day industrial scale dairy farm with 8,000 cows face strong opposition from animal rights activists and local residents.

The 22-acre dairy facility at Nocton, not far from Lincoln, would produce 220,000 litres (387,000 pints) of milk a day and include several 80-animal circular milking parlours.

The critics say the sheer size of this operation, based on similar super dairies in the United States of America, will change the face of dairy farming in the UK and pose a real risk to the welfare of the animals.

But dairy farmer Peter Willes of Nocton Diaries believes it can run the huge £50m farm in a humane manner and produce more milk at lower costs.

The Holstein cows would live in "accommodation buildings" each as long as three football pitches.

They would have pens built on a sand base to allow more comfort for the cows, and the pens will be wider - 6m (20ft) across - with part of the building open to the outside to allow better air circulation.

Mr Willes described the proposed farm as a luxury hotel for cows with facilities, such as a foot-trimming centre, that would not be found on a small farm.

But the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) said the cows will be milked three times a day in an around-the-clock milking parlour that they call a giant merry-go-round.

"One steps off and another one gets on," said Simon Pope of the WSPA.

"It is a pretty miserable life for a dairy cow that does nothing but produce milk three times a day for its entire life," he said.

This will put stress on the animals and shorten their lives from about six years to four years, the campaign group said.

But Nocton Dairies said it will take each cow about 10 minutes to be milked so they will spend only 30 minutes a day in the milking parlours.

The other main criticism of the so-called "cash cow" operations is the lack of outdoor time for the animals.

Mr Willes said: "We will have loafing areas during the summer - more than 100 acres - that they can use every day. The cows will go out in two shifts - morning and afternoon except in the winter."

John Avizienius, deputy head of the Farm Animal Science Department at the RSPCA, was unable to comment on the Nocton plans, but has visited super dairies in America and said: "I've seen large herds and if you can satisfy the needs of the animals - size shouldn't matter."

However the charity stressed that American systems would not work in the UK.

'Lack of space'

A spokesperson added: "The RSPCA does not support systems which house dairy cows 365 days a year, as they are prohibited by the society's welfare standards.

"While there is evidence that these large dairy units in America can make cows comfortable and can look after their welfare up to a point, they are not without drawbacks.

"The lack of space and lack of opportunity for social interactions are just two."

The National Farmers Union said: "The welfare standards in any dairy system are dependant on the skills of the stockman - if the cows are healthy and contented then they will produce high quality milk."

Mr Willes said local villagers - some living about one mile away - were not as concerned about animal welfare as they were "about major issues like highways traffic, smell, noise and flies".

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