A factory farm housing more than 8,000 ‘battery cows’ will be built in the English countryside. Under the controversial plans, Britain’s largest ever dairy herd will be kept in industrial-scale sheds with little access to pasture or sunshine.
The cows will be milked around the clock to produce 430,000 pints each day – while their slurry will be recycled to generate power for the national grid.
The complex is the first ‘supersize’ cattle factory planned for Britain and follows growing concerns about the spread of ‘zero-grazing’ farming. Justin Kerswell, of animal rights group Viva, said: ‘This is factory farming – and it blows out of the water the pastoral image the dairy industry likes to portray.’ The £40million farm will be built near Nocton, Lincolnshire, later this year. It will have eight hangars for 8,100 cattle and two 24-hour milking parlours.
The animals, fed on fodder, will spend most of their days inside where they will stand and sleep on sand rather than pasture. And they will be milked three times a day, while a typical dairy cow is milked just twice.
Waste will be removed each day and fed into an anaerobic generator to produce enough electricity for more than 2,000 homes. Robert Howard, a farmer behind the Nocton Dairies project, said the farm will be the largest in Western Europe and help the dairy industry compete against imports. ‘Campaigners think cows should be like in the Anchor butter advert, with 50 to 100 cows dancing in a field,’ he said. ‘It is a lovely idea, but not the reality.’ His colleague Peter Wiles said the cows would have access to open pasture when they were not producing milk. The sheds would have open sides, he added. ‘We will have a visitor centre to show the public around,’ he said. ‘We are aiming to have exceptional standards.’
The company’s website played down the industrial scale of the farm, saying: ‘The layout is designed so the cows get plenty of exercise and fresh air. ‘A vet will be on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to support the trained dairy staff in their daily inspections of every single cow to check they are healthy and happy.’ But animal campaigners are fighting the plans. Linda Wardale, of the group Vegan Lincs, said the conditions would be akin to ‘ battery farming for cows’. ‘Cows should be in the fields, nibbling on grass, but here they’re going to keep them in sheds,’ she added.
And Patrick Holden, an organic dairy farmer and director of the Soil Association, said the farm was a wake-up call. ‘Will consumers be happy to know that they are drinking the milk from one of 8,100 cows that will never get out to grass?’ he asked. ‘There is also a greater risk of disease – and the spread of new diseases, as we saw with BSE.’
In addition, the move away from family farming would make Britain more vulnerable to rises in energy prices and trade crises, he added. The Nocton Dairies’ farmers hope to have planning permission by the end of next month and milk the first cow by September.
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