VEGAs recent campaigning on behalf of the dairy cow
and her calves includes:
Funding research into the effects of early separation
of calves from their dam (see associated press-release -
NEW SCIENTIFIC REPORT DAMNS ROUTINE PRACTICES IN THE DAIRY/BEEF/VEAL
INDUSTRY), and research into the stresses of livestock markets,
both at Bristol University.
Discussion with both the FSA and with manufacturers on
improvements to the nutritional content of plant milks.
Encouragement to other animal welfare organisations to
provide plant milk for tea and coffee at meetings.
Encouraging campaigners to ASK for non-dairy alternatives
at supermarkets and coffee shops (See our Veganizing Ingredients page).
Encouraging distributors/sellers of plant milks to use separate jugs with labels and supplying them with dairy free labels.
Cows single suckling their calves in beef herds need to produce
a ton of milk a year, much of it from grass.
Todays milker in the dairy herd averages six tons a year,
and yields attain ten tons are not uncommon; targets of fifteen
tons are being set, thanks to mineral and vitamin supplementation
of feeds, fertiliser use for grass and grains for the rations
and to imported proteinacous sources such as soya, fishmeal,
Some organic dairy farmers are now claiming yields exceeding
seven tons a year.
The dairy cow succumbs early to "production diseases"
among which are mastitis, lameness, metabolic disturbances,
waning fertility, dropped udder, and calving problems (dystokia),
so she becomes an early victim in the workings of the dairy/beef/veal
The stresses of separation of a calf from its dam, transport
and marketing inflict greater pressures for Pharmer Giles's
(abetted by the vets) to use vaccines and antibiotics as surrogates
for tender loving care and raising levels of immunity.
The above picture displays the grossly
distended udder that results from combining repeated pregnancies
with high levels of milk production (Picture © The Thylazine Foundation Pty Ltd)
The processes attract a battery of needleworks with vaccines
and antibodies and opportunities for a spread of zoonotic
and specific diseases.
Neonatal mortality in calves runs at ten times or more than
the toll for newborn human babies.
for humans or for calves?
Lifelong consumption of cow's milk is unnatural for grown-up
cattle. For human milksops its even more unnatural and is
a relatively recent evolutionary quirk to which our species
has not adapted fully. Lactose and allergenic proteins and
other factors upset many human consumers in various ways,
unless the milk is modified by processing such as heat treatment
(e.g. pasteurization) or fermented, converting the milk-sugar
into lactic acid as in cheese and yogurt.
Bovine TB is emerging
as a spreading threat, requiring a return to the meat inspection
procedures introduced 70 or 80 years ago and examinations
for lesions on udders sliced off in the slaughterhouse.
We now have the technology to create acceptable milks from
pulse, cereal and leafy crops, with simple machinery. How
much better to produce them in gleaming stainless steel vats
than to stuff such materials into miserable mucky cows bewailing
the loss of the babies we have snatched away.
consumption and EU grants
In 2002 milk consumption was given a £1m boost by a grant
from the European Commission that was match-funded by
the Milk Development Council (MDC). The money was intended
for a one-year promotional scheme extolling the nutritional
benefits of milk and will be managed by the Dairy Council.
"It will be a welcome shot in the arm for the White Stuff
Campaign that suffered a setback last year when funding was
withdrawn for a trial period by the Dairy Industry Foundation"
reports Farmers Weekly (6 September 2002). A spokeswoman for
the MDC said: "The campaign is definitely back on track"
and "some really good initiatives are in the pipeline."
Making a statement to farmers of consumers likely and increasing
interests in the dairy-industry, Tom Kelly, head of Genus
Management, warned of threats arising from the BSE crisis.
"We used to have one fairly tolerant buyer for our milk,
the Milk Marketing Board, where the issue was how to avoid
the penalty. Now we have direct buyers demanding quality milk.
The emphasis is now on providing that quality to secure a
higher price and a guaranteed buyer. Added to that, milk has
got to be traceable," he said (Farmers Weekly, 31 May
1996). Further, he told farmers that "he believed they
would eventually have to keep detailed records on issues such
as lameness or calf mortality as part of a practical animal
While VEGA applauds signs of a hardening of the Treasury
attitudes over compensations for further national scandals
in the farming and food industries - which is in accord with
VEGA statements to various official bodies, from the BSE Inquiry
on - it is less pleasant to be reminded in a report
from the Chief Veterinary Officer of DEFRA that plans for
the Department's expenditure on animal welfare and health
are set to decline. This confirms an
untoward trend, the shortcomings of which were obvious in
the progression of the foot-and-mouth epidemic. The allocations
year by year were as follows:
Although Government money must be allocated for independent
auditing and control, VEGA hopes the figures indicate an insurance
and policing system paid for by levies on the live/deadstock
trade that would become a fund to indemnify the industry against
claims from injured parties among the populace and producers
and retailers with grievances and claims. Such a policy would
remind consumers of the true costs of the products by rises
in prices, which would have manifold advantages, not least
to reduce sales.
Such moves would increase the split of horn versus corn in
the ranks of the NFU: arable farmers seek to extricate themselves
from the discredit the live/deadstock industry has brought
on farming in general. The mutterings of secession are muted
because many arable farmers are implicated in the objectionable
practices by growing cereals and other crops that are used
in feeds for intensively-reared animals.
VEGA caught at the British Veterinary Congress annual meeting
in October 2001 a lecture by R J Sibley BVSc MRCVS on Veterinary
checks on farms - added cost or added value? as part of the
Food Production seminar. Mr Sibley is an official of societies
involved in cattle keeping and production and he has forceful
views. He referred in his lecture to opinions that "differing
obligations may suggest conflicts of interests. Indeed, some
farmers see the interference of a veterinary surgeon as an
impediment to their production efficiency, and an avoidable
The profession's role in the efficient production
of safe food has been confused."
Turning to mastitis, he said that "this affliction affects
over one third of all dairy cows each year. It severely compromises
milk quality and wholesomeness, and is a major loss to the
industry. The disease is a major welfare problem, and is also
the reason for the majority of the antibiotic usage in dairy
cattle. Extraordinary systems and protocols are employed to
ensure that antibiotic residues are avoided after the high-risk
procedure of infusing antibiotic directly into the food-producing
organ of the dairy cow. This leads to a massive loss of milk
to the farmer, expensive security arrangements at the processor,
and the inevitable breaches with consequential loss to the
industry as a whole."
He cited figures for reduction of cell count from 571 000
in 1971 to 250 000 in 1994 and clinical incidence of 110 cases
of mastitis per 100 cows in 1970 to 35 cases per 100 cows
in 1995. He also cited some data for diseases of economic
importance recorded for a review of 90 herds in 1992 to 1993,
|Disease or Condition
||Top 25% herds
||Bottom 25% herds
|Calf mortality: Calves dead per 100 calves
|Dystokia. Cows requiring aid per 100
|Retained foetal membranes. Cows retaining
placenta per 100 cows calved
|Milk fever. Cases per 100 cows calved
|Mastitis. Clinical cases per 100 cows
|Lameness. Recorded cases per 100 cows
|Cost of disease in dairy
cows (based on 1995 prices in £)
Total cost, including
overall lost production per affected cow
time drugs, milk, and deaths per affected cows
|Total cost to 100-cow
heard with average disease incidence
||Total cost to 100-cow
herd with average incidence of top 25%
|Retained foetal membranes
|Total cost of disease
and subsequent losses due to these diseases in a 100-cow
One reason for the present scarcity of home-produced beef
is the "widespread practice of killing dairy calves on
the farm, not necessarily illegally, but as a reflection of
the economic pressure on the milk industry. Now comes a stronger
incentive for producers to keep the young animals in the meat-production
chain. Dairy farmers should be aware that EU legislation will
outlaw the farm burial of fallen stock from January 1 next
year. And in areas where knacker or hunt cover is thin, disposal
collection charges of up to £80 per head are already
being made for calves under 3 weeks old," says Mr Robert
Robinson, of the National Beef Association (The Grocer, 25
May 2002). "The delivery of at least 300 000 of the 450
000 dairy-bred calves that are currently being shot by labour-strapped
milk producers each year to beef-rearing and finishing farms
is critical to the stability of the beef-industry." VEGA
adds this to its testimony to the milksops' plea that "you
don't have to slaughter animals to get milk."
Adoption of the impending guidelines by the European Commission
is worrying the British slaughtering industry in several ways.
The changes affect state aid for disposing of slaughterhouse
waste, fallen stock and victims of transmissible spongiform
encephalopathies (TSEs), notably BSE. "BSE legislation
has significantly altered the economics of slaughterhouse
waste," says EC Commissioner Franz Fischler (Meat Trades
Journal, 5 December 2002). "What was a valuable product
in the past is waste now, to be disposed of at high cost.
In order to allow the sector to adapt, the Commission has
so far authorised very high amounts of state aid. However,
we have found that this could lead to serious distortions
of competition. Some member states grant a lot of aid, others
do not." The Meat Trades Journal notes that "exceptionally,
member states may be granted 50% aid for the disposal of specified
risk material (SRM) and meat-and-bonemeal (MBM) with no further
commercial use produced in 2003. Mr Peter Scott, general secretary
of the British Meat Federation descries threats to the British
industry, which have "further cost implications to the
slaughtering sector which are bound to increase slaughtering
costs. At the moment in the UK an estimated £18m a year
is paid by the Government for the removal, storage, and disposal
of SRM alone.
Editorialising, the Meat Trades Journal accepts "the
need to tighten up on the way unfit food and animal waste
is disposed of. In recent years there have been a number of
very serious criminal investigations into how unfit meat and
poultry found its way into the food chain, resulting in prosecutions."
The editorial foresees more unwelcome developments: "It
sounds like moving more of the cost burden on to an already
overburdened meat industry. The bottom line is that this is
a first-class matter of public safety and should therefore
come wholly out of public funds." VEGA objects that the
trade and customers should carry the whole cost, and thus
be reminded directly at the till rather than muted in the
taxes they pay for damage and injury they inflict on animals,
health, and the environment.
We redouble our assertions, as in VEGA REVIEW 3, that it's
better to turn crops in gleaming stainless steel vats into
milks and "dairy-products" rather than stuffing
them into miserable, mucky, and mastitic cows, whose mammary
secretions are denied to their calves. The dairy/beef/veal
industry has escaped the contempt and objection it deserves
and it rightly suffers the current disadvantages it has been
complaining of. Animal welfarists and rightists have performed
lamentably in preaching and practising effective aid for the
cow and her calf. VEGA continues its campaign on their
behalf and on the corollaries.
Connivance at the animal welfare and hygiene.phpects of "the
milk of human blindness" has been widespread. How loudly
foodies would object if milk had to be routinely irradiated,
rather than pasteurised. The Vegetarian Society bestows approbation
on products without reservations on the origins of the milk
and the conditions of the cows and calves. Compassion in World
Farming recently awarded honours to Marks and Spencer, notorious
among animal welfarists for "buttering everything up"
and resolute "wheying-in" (that's how the by-products
of skimmed milk and cheese-making receive value-adding). Two
cheers for the Soil Association and one for the RSPCA in showing
some regard for some of the evils of commercial milk-production.
And the Real Meat Company refuses to sell dairy-produce because
it cannot find sources practising the welfare requirements
it and its vets demand. But what do we make of the British
Indians sanctifying mother-cow and the principles of ahimsa
while indulging as accomplices in the rape of this abused
animal (and her calves) in the excesses of commercial production?
Not that the dairy.phpect of the live/deadstock industry
has done badly from EU handouts, as our attached survey of
CAP expenditures and forecasts shows. In Europe two thirds
of the beef originates in the dairy industry and much of the
cereal harvest is used for feed, not food, so it is difficult
for these and environmental reasons to calculate the full
measure of the dairy industry's benefits.
The vigorous veggie trend of the 1980s has yielded to the
organic and anti-GM crusades, with dubious free-range assurances
and red-tractor schemes to distract from the effects of overweening
consumer demands. (The red tractor is probably a Renault,
and British meat, milk, and eggs are derived from animals
fed on imported concentrates - probably GM - are as British
as a Rover car assembled with imported components). However,
a developing population of meat-reducers and dairy-frees bids
fair to approach more effectively the aims true veggies should
campaign for: a feasible national shift of 10% in demand for
animal-derived foods will at present do more good for animal
welfare, health, and the environment than a doubling of the
population declaring themselves - somewhat loosely, it must
be said - to pollsters as vegetarians. VEGA's testimony to
the Curry Commission and thus to the Government (in fact,
the Cabinet Office) set forth a feasible way of accelerating
and extending this trend. (Our submission is available on
our website or from the Cabinet Office). VEGA is now assessing
the Government's response, published in mid December, to the
The alternative market has benefited meat-reducers as the
meat trade has travailed through the aftermaths of BSE, vCJD,
and FMD; now the dairy-frees are receiving support from commercial
enterprise and competition from the retail market in milks
and dairy-produce, "fresh" and UHT, derived direct
from plant-sources, without exploiting the cow and calf and
using leguminous nitrogen-fixing crops (such as soya and peas)
that may be grown within the EU (including the UK).
Devil is Sick
We have to admit that the dairy industry's own commercial
concerns are doing - as we shall show - more for animal welfare
- if only to counter the costs of "production diseases"
than the protestations of Britain's animal "lovers".
Competition from producers of plant-milks comes usefully -
but on a commercial appeal aimed at the health of consumers.
We reviewed in VEGA REVIEW 3 considerable penetration of alternatives
in the tremendous sales of milks in supermarkets and own-label
brands. Now, after all these years, we can congratulate Plamil,
whose products find another place in some supermarkets, in
sections catering for special diets. A niche in the supermarkets
is a lot bigger than a rut in health-food stores. Many of
these sales will be on a like-for-like basis, the alternative
ousting the animal-derived products. Switches post-BSE and
foot-and-mouth from meat have yielded statistics that matter
but bring little joy to veggie campaigners who perceive corresponding
replacements with poultry and fish. VEGA has just submitted
comment on the Department of Health's revised policies on
welfare foods for mothers and their young children (see our
So what's new in the industry analysing for itself the
shortcomings VEGA tries to expose? The dairy/beef/veal business
is the major concern in British farming and policies.
Comfort, Cudding, and Coliforms
"Large dairy cows do not fit easily into small cubicles
designed for their predecessors over 20 years ago, and many
are uncomfortable and lame. Redesigning such cubicle-housing
is often expensive and difficult and so the alternative of
deep straw-bedded yards, where cows lie down for longer, has
been promoted, reducing the risk of foot lesions. The incidence
of environmental mastitis in housed cows is a serious problem,
with Escherichia coli and Streptococcus uberis being the major
pathogens. Straw beds have been associated with an increased
incidence of mastitis, and it is generally accepted that the
risk of mastitis caused by E coli and S uberis becomes greater
with increasing exposure to faecal challenge
evidence that coliform counts below 106 coliform-forming
units (cfu)/g are safer than those above 106.
The traditional view is that under certain conditions E coli
and S uberis, derived mainly from faeces, multiply in straw-bedding
and eventually produce an overwhelming challenge to the udder.
Recent research suggests that E coli and S uberis can persist
within the udder for longer periods than was previously believed,
suggesting that dry cows also need to be kept clean."
These words introduce a report (Veterinary Record, 17 August
2002) from the Division of Farm Animal Studies, University
of Liverpool, Veterinary Teaching Hospital. It claims that
"one way to control this environmental infection might
be through the management of the cows' beds, but there has
been surprisingly little research into the physical and bacterial
conditions that prevail in them. There is also general uncertainty
about the standards for stocking density and the quality and
quantity of straw required for high-yielding cows. Accordingly,
the report is entitled Observational study of temperature,
Moisture, pH and bacteria in straw bedding and, faecal consistency,
cleanliness, and mastitis in cows in four dairy herds.
"It is generally accepted that cows should be kept clean,
but there have been few studies of the cleanliness of housed
dairy cows; and there has been surprisingly little research
into the relationship between the cleanliness of cows and
the incidence of mastitis," state the authors of the
report. "This study set out to observe in four herds
the range of conditions in the straw beds in yards housing
early-lactation and dry cows during the winter months, and
to record the cows' cleanliness and the incidence of mastitis.
A fuller report has been presented to the Milk Development
Council." The authors acknowledge funding from the MDC
and thank the MDC's project manager.
The survey covered "a variety of breeds, milk yields,
housing and management systems, stocking densities, and systems
of bedding. The authors comment that "the temperature,
moisture content, and pH values recorded in the straw yards
leave little doubt that they were potentially conducive to
the multiplication of S uberis and E coli. It is not surprising
therefore that such yards have a reputation for promoting
mastitis." (VEGA observes that in some respects straw
yards could be seen from a cursory glance to be better for
The results of the study "show that most of the straw,
including the surface straw, was well above the target of
75% relative humidity. In addition to the initial moisture
content of the straw bales, considerable quantities of water
are added daily to the straw in the cow faeces and urine,
and from water troughs. High-yielding cows produce up to 30
litres or more of urine daily and a similar amount in faeces.
In addition, wet winter weather and suboptimal ventilation
give little chance for the surface of the straw to dry. If
the relative humidity of the air inside the house exceeds
75%, as it frequently did on these farms, it seems unlikely
that the straw will remain dry and absorbent for any length
of time. It may be difficult without air-conditioning to keep
the relative humidity of the surface of the straw below 75%,
but the results of the study suggest that using adequate quantities
of dry straw and spreading it mechanically may be helpful
measures," state the researchers on the conditions of
the bedding. (VEGA notes that the high-yielding cows' daily
excretions of 60l a day are accompanied by secretions of 30l
or more, voided as milk - not including expirations in breath
The report continues: "The results suggest that E coli
might not survive in the alkaline pH of the deep layers, but
that both E coli and S uberis would tolerate the pH in the
top layers of the straw, the layers in contact with the cows'
udders and teats. In the single small trial lime did not raise
the pH of the bedding to the levels required for control (above
pH9.5), except for a short period when 0.4 kg/m2 was added
to the top surface after rebedding. However, spreading the
lime at this rate was considered to be intolerable and too
expensive, although it appeared to have no harmful effect
on the cows' teats. In the yards of both the early lactation
cows and the dry cows the results indicated the potential
for infection by E coli and faecal streptococci in the top
layers of the straw. The numbers of E coli and faecal streptococci
never fell below one million colony-forming units, even in
the treated straw. The straw beds in the yard of the early-lactation
cows had a greater potential for infection because they contained
about twice as many E coli and faecal streptococci as the
beds of the dry cows, despite bedding being added daily to
the early-lactation yard (VEGA notes that sodden urea-laden
materials at alkaline pHs would be sources of atmospheric
ammonia, which would have harmful effects on the animals'
"Many of the early-lactation cows were unacceptably
dirty. Taking scores of over 3 to be unacceptable, very many
of these cows were too dirty, being heavily and persistently
contaminated with faeces. If the incidence of environmental
mastitis is related to the level of faecal contamination,
then the early lactation cows of farms 2 and 3, and to a smaller
extent those on farm 4, were at considerable risk. However,
the study did reveal that the cows should be kept clean, as
was the case for most of the dry cows and for the early-lactation
cows on farm 1. These cows had a ration that rarely caused
them to produce large quantities of loose faeces a satisfactory
clean surface could not be maintained," state the authors.
They conclude: "The significant relationship between
faecal consistency and the cleanliness of the udders, flanks,
and legs of the early-lactation cows suggest that farmers
could improve the cleanliness of cows' udders by feeding them
so that their faeces are drier. A faecal challenge can arise
from loose faeces splashing in passageways on to the cows'
legs, from their lying on wet, dirty feet and beds, or by
the direct contamination of the tails and udders. Loose faeces
and damp straw make a sticky daub, which clings to surfaces,
including the cows' coats, and makes it difficult to keep
the cows clean." They continue that "faecal scoring
would be a useful management skill for farmers, veterinary
surgeons and nutritional advisors. The results from farm 1
showed that a score of 3 was achievable in lactating cows,
but the average milk yield on this farm was only 5700 litres
a year," which, VEGA observes, is below the national
average of about 6000l - and some herds, organic included,
are working towards 10-tonners (10 000l/yr) or even more.
The authors also observe that "high-yielding cows and
recently-calved cows have a higher incidence of mastitis;
30% of cases occurred within one month of calving and 44%
within 2 months. In this study the early-lactation cows were
exposed to the greatest faecal challenge, and it is tempting
to draw parallels between the incidence of clinical mastitis
on these farms and their environmental data. Farm 1 managed
to maintain clean cows and had little mastitis, whereas farms
2 and 3 had many more cases and the results from farm 4 were
Farm 1 had a substantial arable area, which provided
all the wheat straw for its needs. The straw was baled cylindrically
and stored in stacks covered with plastic sheets. In a subsequent
year the straw was harvested in particularly wet weather and
storms damaged the plastic sheets.
Farm 2 purchased all its straw, mostly barley, in
large rectangular bales weighing about 300kg. They were stored
under cover. During the first year some cheap damp wheat straw
was purchased occasionally, but in the second year the farmer
bought barley and oat straw of better quality at higher cost.
Farm 3 purchased straw in large rectangular bales
weighing about 300kg, which were stored under cover. During
the first year good-quality barley-straw was used, but at
the beginning of the second the farmer purchased cheaper bedding-type
straw, "which tended to be coarse, discoloured, mouldy,
and wadded. Difficulties in handling persuading the farmer
to change back to good-quality barley straw."
Farm 4 grew most of its own barley straw, but the
quantity was limited and some was harvested in wet weather.
The straw was made into large rectangular bales weighing about
300kg, which were stored under cover.
VEGA notes that mouldy and dusty straw presents a hazard
to the lungs and breathing of animals and stockpersons.
Milk and Manky Meat
The Meat Hygiene Service has been acting in the last year
or two to prevent animals going for slaughter filthy and,
with clagging weighing 10kg or more, carrying an extra load
of muck into premises that serve the dual purposes of food-factory
and latrine. The contamination also damages hides, so MHS
vets have powers to turn away from slaughterhouses animals
arriving at the premises with a high score of coated muck.
VEGA is concerned about the fate of rejected animals. It is
less likely nowadays that they can be taken away with any
likelihood of acceptance at another slaughterhouse, but they
need to be looked after. They may be kept in a strawed lairage
for a while to get dry and less dirty, but then they may need
feeding and watering. They can be shaved alive along the brisket
just along the line of the post-slaughter saw cut. (VEGA is
currently involved in the State Veterinary Service's audit
of the MHS's variable performance on control of hygiene and
animal welfare - for more information see our website).
This is unpopular with slaughterhouse staff who are in danger
of powerful sideways kicks from cattle even when they are
penned for the purpose. The whole process of splitting the
carcase risks dispersal of fragments of spinal column and
of particles likely to spread the risk of spongiform encephalopathies.
Mr Hugh Black, a dairy-farmer and "producer" of
milk, has improved "cow-cleanliness" on his Herefordshire-based
unit by "changing from straw cubicles to mats and fitting
automatic scrapers. Before the changes "there was extensive
pooling of urine and dung
Many cows had wet tails causing
problems with cow cleanliness and mastitis." Cubicles
were upgraded from straw bedding to mats and sawdust. "Sawdust
is used to keep mats dry, while mats provide comfort. Cows
are now visibly cleaner and somatic cell counts average 170
000 cells/ml with no more than 2 active cases of mastitis
at one time." (VEGA reminds readers that the cell count
represents debris shed from inflamed linings in the cow's
udder - hardly "approved" fare for veggies).
"To minimise damage," Mr Hugh Black calves all
his cows and heifers in straw yards at his Wharton bank Farm,
"to provide a soft surface, which minimises pressure
on their feet." "Damage" to hocks was also
"a common problem when cows were housed on concrete cubicles
bedded with straw. No matter how much straw was used, cows
constantly kicked it off the bed into the scraping passage
to reveal a hard surface," says Mr Black, who switched
to cubicle mats last year for his herd of 170 cows. The "more
comfortable" cows now suffer less: "hock damage
and sole ulcers are no longer seen."
"The reason why cubicle cleanliness is so crucial is
modern cows are 12 times more susceptible to infection,"
observes Roger Blowey, a vet famed for his knowledge of the
dairy-job. "Cows have been bred for greater milk flow
rates. This has doubled over the last 20 years, resulting
in a larger teat-opening through which infection can gain
entry." (Farmers Weekly, 29 March 2002).
Another common problem is milk leaking from teats on to cubicle
beds and providing the perfect conditions for mastitis-causing
bacteria to grow. Mr Blowey rates sand as an ideal bedding
material as it is inert and doesn't support bacterial growth.
Unfortunately few contractors are willing to handle slurry
containing sand: it damages the machinery for disposing of
Mr Blowey recommends maximising cow comfort around calving
as "the secret to minimising cases of lameness during
the first 3 months of lactation," the hoof being "more
susceptible to infection and damage at calving." Most
cases of lameness occur 2 to 3 months into lactation and are
blamed on stress at peak milk production, but Mr Blowey states
that "what is being observed may have happened about
2 months ago." It takes a couple of months for lesions
occurring inside the foot to reach the weight-bearing surface
of the foot and cause of sole ulcers. Mr Blowey believes that
"the main cause of these ulcers is the pedal bone pinching
the soft inner corium area of the foot on to the hard sole
beneath. The corium can also be infected due to white line
disorders. The white line is a cemented junction between the
wall and sole of the hoof and is a point of weakness which
allows infection to gain entry into the hoof."
Mr Blowey says that cows are more susceptible to foot damage
at calving because horn growth is severely disrupted at this
time, resulting in the sole becoming thin and the corium being
at a greater risk of damage. "The ligaments supporting
the bone in the hoof are also more relaxed in the last 2 weeks
of gestation and first 4 weeks of lactation, increasing pinching
of the corium by the pedal bone," states Mr Blowey.
The type of housing at calving will affect the incidence
of lameness later in lactation. Mr Blowey condemns calving
heifers outside and then bringing them into the herd on that
same day: "they are transferred from an ideal soft surface
on to hard concrete."
Assessing cubicles for comfort, Mr Blowey gives farmers this
advice on their cows: "Do they look comfortable? Cows
wriggling forward while lying down is a sign of poor comfort."
He explains: "When cows stand half out of the cubicle
with their back feet in the slurry passage it can be due to
having open-fronted cubicles with cows on the other side.
Cows prefer to have nothing in front of them." The automatic
scrapers fitted at Wharton Bank Farm, clear passages every
2 hours directly into a slurry lagoon outside the housing
area. Mr Blowey regards this as "crucial for controlling
digital dermatitis." He adds that: "mixed urine
and slurry presents a greater risk of digital dermatitis than
unmixed. But cows must not be forced to walk through pools
of scraped slurry deposited at the end of the building."
Farmers Weekly sums up precautions for reducing lameness
1. Hoof fragile around calving;
2. Calve on straw;
3. Train heifers in cubicles.
It is the year 2002. VEGA deplores the obvious need after
all these centuries of farming and involvement by the veterinary
profession of abuse inflicted on a food-producing animal kept
in conditions of confinement, restriction, and filth that
would arouse the RSPCA and attract litigation if an owner
kept dogs or cats likewise. Farmers can't be surprised that
their reputation is sullied, DEFRA and the Food Standards
Agency have to be impressed by VEGA's insistence that farmers
and owners and handlers of animals must be trained and appropriately
licensed by a veterinary profession with much more commitment
to its vows; and consumers must be prepared to pay more for
according mercies that decency commands. Farmers and "producers"
have to work hard to lose the cowboy sobriquet.The nation
must ponder on the origins and sustainability of BSE and its
consequences and the blunders that overtook the industry in
the retribution of foot-and-mouth.
Milk and Misery
There have been no national surveys of the causes of clinical
mastitis in cows in the UK in the past decade. Evidence that
the pattern of disease has changed over the past 20 years
has accumulated, indicating that Streptococcus uberis and
other environmental pathogens, such as Escherichia coli have
been "reported to be more prevalent than the contagious
pathogens, for example Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus
agalactiae, as causes of clinical mastitis in recent years."
To remedy this lack of hard evidence a veterinary survey
by the Division of Farm Animal Medicine and Production, Department
of Veterinary Clinical Studies, University of Glasgow Veterinary
School, with vets from a practice in Tiverton, Devon, was
mounted, the results of which have been recently described
under the title Prevalence and Etiology of Clinical Mastitis
on Dairy Farms in Devon. Pfizer Animal Health, a drug company,
provided financial support.
Devon was chosen because it is "one of the 10 counties
in Great Britain that has a density of more than 60 dairy
cows per square mile." The report (Veterinary Record,
24 August 2002) yields many illustrative facts. The average
herd size on the farms studied was 94 cows (range 30 to 346).
Most (69%) of the herds were composed of Holstein Friesian
cows; in a further 16% of herds there were mainly cows of
this breed, with others, thus: pedigree Holstein, Ayrshire,
Jersey, brown Swiss, Meuse-Rhine-Ijssel, and Simmental-Friesian
cross. The remaining herds were British Friesian (9%), pedigree
Holstein (4%), Guernsey (1%), and Ayrshire (1%). The survey
was conducted between October 1999 to February 2001, that
is, before the latest outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
VEGA draws attention to some facts that the Countryside Alliance
overlooks: the population of "British" cows looks
as "British" as the exotic bugs they have acquired.
Absence from the cows of native Devon breeds, once famous
as sturdy dual-purpose cattle, can be explained by their segregation
into a relatively small proportion of the less-intensified
purely beef-producing herds.
Bacterial cell counts are much quoted in sales of milk and
as indicators (with some reservations) of the prevalence of
mastitic infections. In this investigation the median 3-month
geometric mean bulk milk somatic cell count (BMSCC) for the
herds during the study period was 142 000 cells/ml (range
70 000 to 300 000 cells/ml) (in sales of milk figures of over
150 000 cells/ml are liable to attract penalties; below the
figure premiums may be collected). The median milk yield for
the herds during the investigation was 8000 litres per cow
per year (range 4750 l/yr to 12 500 l/yr). Most of lactating
and dry cows were housed in cubicles bedded with straw or
straw plus mattresses / mats.
The most prevalent bacteria isolated from 2257 samples of
milk from 1657 cows on 130 dairy farms in Devon were S uberis
(37%) enterobacteriae (which would include E coli) (23%) and
coagulate-negative staphylococci (10%); others included Streptococcus
dysgalactiae (4%), Staphylococcus aureus (3%) and various
other bacterial species, including bacilli, Corynebacteria,
Arcanobacter pyogenes, other streptococci, Prototheca, Enterococci,
Pasteurella, yeasts, moulds, and mixed infections. A Devonshire
cream tea will never taste the same again! There was sufficient
information from 60 of the 130 farms to allow the herd incidence
of clinical mastitis to be calculated. It varied from one
to 73 cases per 100 cows per year. The median and mean number
of cases for the farms were 13 and 17 cases per 100 cows per
year, respectively. Analysis of various studies over the years
puts this incidence on the low side and the between-herd variance
is not unusual although it indicates how much depends on management,
facilities, and breed. Earlier surveys have indicated an increased
incidence of clinical mastitis during the winter period, but
this was not replicated in the Devon study: "this may
be due to the year-round calving patterns of the herds, as
it is recognised that clinical mastitis is more common in
cows within 30 days of calving."
The vets conclude the report of their study with the comment
that the results "agree with the literature that environmental
pathogens, including S uberis and coliforms, are now more
commonly isolated from cases of clinical mastitis than contagious
pathogens." VEGA comments that the whole subject needs
scrutiny by scientists, animal welfarists, environmentalists,
organics, and the pharmaceutical industry. It laments also
another example of a survey reported from a veterinary school
with no mention of the word welfare - for animals or for people
who look after them. Productivity rules, OK?
Cows yielding 12 500 l/yr (i.e. 12.5 tonnes) are secreting
annually milk weighing about 17 times their own bodyweight.
And in that year of forced productivity they are producing
and give birth to a calf. No wonder they "burn out"
with "production disease" at an early age, perhaps
surviving only 3 lactations and calvings; then they are rewarded
by the care of vets pledged by their professional vows "to
do the utmost for the wellbeing of the animals in their care"
- which means culling.
A letter entitled Clinical Mastitis in British Dairy Herds
in the same issue of the Veterinary Record by a vet of the
Dairy Herd Health and Productivity Service, University of
Edinburgh covers ground similar to the study relating to conditions
in Devon. The author of the Scottish survey comments that
"mastitis looks to be getting worse again after an apparent
period of gradual progress."
Recalling a year's farming on a 370 ha (915 acre) mixed farm
in Oxfordshire, with the main enterprises involving 230 million
cows and followers, 270 Mule ewes, 50 beef cross stores and
winter wheat, barley, oats, and beans grown for the organic
market, Miles Saunders described the summer as "reasonable
and the hay was made in good weather. Plenty of silage was
also made, although quality could have been better. Grain
harvest was below average but the organic price held up well.
Lambs are doing well now, averaging £50 each. Cows are
improving their milk yield to average 25 litres/day and they
seem to be holding in calf quite well at 61% to first service."
(Farmers Weekly, 19 January 2001).
Needs must when the devil of price drives, and Miles Saunders
is not daunted by warnings that the pressure on his cows,
stockpersons, and facilities might be excessive. "The
coming year should be exciting with the plan to increase the
dairy to 300 cows. There are many hurdles to jump and the
aim is to be in a position for efficient milk production for
many years, hopefully producing organic milk. The prices are
stable for a while, which should enable the capital costs
to be recovered fairly quickly", he reports.
However, things weren't good on the dairy side (although
not unusual, on many counts). "Over the past year there
have been 35 cull cows, which represents 16% of the herd.
Nine cows were culled because of fertility problems and another
9 for mastitis and high cell counts. Two cows went because
of lameness and 4 others were casualties. One cow died of
bloat, although there were some close shaves with 5 other
cows. Five others were culled for yield, lying in the passage,
and potential arthritis in 2 older cows."
This indictment of stockmanship suggests a performance and
breakdowns at about the level of the transport industry's
management of its buses and trains, which at least don't suffer
pain nor brutal curtailments of those vaunted 5 Freedoms that
the dairy industry recites to naïve enquirers after the
truth in the activities of the cowboys. Among the other disasters
of the year Miles Saunders reports that "the spring was
capped by my wife leaving for pastures new."
Reasons for removals of cows from herds included in a survey
of the fertility of dairy cows in Northern Ireland were "divided
into 6 categories (infertility, lameness, locomotion / skeletal,
mastitis / injury to teats or udder, other diseases / iilthrift
/ found dead, individual cow management problems, or general
management decisions)", with further sub-divisions, such
as "poor production and surplus to requirement"
as examples in the last two categories (Veterinary Record,
8th June 2002).
Salient statistics from the survey are:
- Mean rate of heat detection (assessed by the interheat
interval during the main breeding season) in all the herds:
71% (range 53% to 92%)
- Average conception rate to first insemination: 37.1
(21% to 66%)
- Average calving interval for the retained cows: 407.2
days (range 359 to 448)
- Infertility 27%
- Culling rate of cows that calved: 28%
Of which these were the causes:
- Lameness / locomotion / muscular / skeletal 14%
- Mastitis / injury to teat or udder 9.5%
- Other diseases / illthrift / found dead 7%
- Individual cow management problems 14%
- Overall general management decision 22%
- Unknown 6.5%
Poor fertility is a major and increasing problem on diary
farms throughout the UK and has been identified as the single
most important problem in dairy herd management in Northern
Ireland. In addition to the direct financial cost, estimated
in 1998 at over £500 million per annum in the UK, infertility
can increase management complexity as a result of the inability
to achieve a compact calving pattern. This is a particular
problem in seasonal production systems, in which compact block
calving is vital for maximising milk production from grazed
Declines in reproductive performance of dairy herds, measured
as conception rate to first service, have increased worldwide:
in the USA at a rate of 0.4% per year over the period 1973
to 1995; in the UK the comparable decline is about 1% per
year over the last 20 years, falling from about 56% in 1975
to 40% between 1995 and 1998.
Reproductive performance is influenced by many factors, such
as management practices and nutrition. The decline in fertility
in the dairy cow has been associated with an increased genetic
capacity for milk production achieved by replacement of the
British Friesian by the North American Holstein. During the
period of declining fertility, the percentage of Holstein
genes in the UK dairy herd has increased from approximately
zero in 1975 to about 80% in 1998. Similar experiences have
been reported in the Netherlands. However the fall in herd
fertility may depend on factors other than the increasing
Holstein influence, because conception rates in non-lactating
heifers in the USA have remained high (70 to 80%) during a
period when milk production per cow has increased by 218%.
The survey in Northern Ireland accepts some evidence of a
genetic effect in the declining herd fertility, but raises
the importance of other factors, "for example, management
changes such as increases in herd size, or the increases in
negative energy balance in early lactation associated with
higher milk yields and inadequate nutrient intake." Or,
as VEGA would put it, bad husbandry. And opponents to GM might
appreciate genetic manipulations for which animal welfarists
have for years tried to enlist support for their objections.
We summarise below some of the salient features in the results
obtained from the 19 herds in the Northern Ireland survey;
we give mean values with some revealing ranges.
|Milk Yield (kg/cow)
|First 100 days
|Milk Protein (%)
|First 100 days
|Milk Fat (%)
|First 100 days
Milk from forage (kg
in first 100 days)
% Milk from forage (in
first 100 days)
|Labour units/ 100 cows
|Labour units/ million litres
|Veterinary costs (£/cow/year)
Stockmanship and veterinary costs were not related to the
fertility performance, although there are doubts over the
validity of these comparisons. The assessments of psychological
suitability in the stockpersons could range from 18 to 72;
in fact, the mediocre scores of 40.5 to 47.3 provide little
The conception rate of 37.1% to first AI was 37.1%, 16% less
than the rate estimated from the 60-day non-return rate in
the same herds. The rate of 37.1% is comparable with 40.9%
reported in 1995 for herds in the USA and with 39.7% for 2000
in English herds.
The "removal rate" of 28% compares with 23.8% recorded
in 1997, when infertility was noticed as the commonest reason
for a removal of cows (36.5%). The authors of the Northern
Ireland survey conclude that "at this stage the results
show that acceptable levels of fertility can be achieved in
herds with cows of high genetic merit, provided that estrus
is directed efficiently, that the cows calve in moderate body
condition, and that they are fed to minimize the loss of body
condition after calving."
The study was conducted by scientists and vets at the Agricultural
Research Institute of Northern Ireland, the Veterinary Sciences
Division, Department of Agriculture and Rural Development,
the School of Agriculture and Food Science, the Queen's University
of Belfast, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development,
and AI Services (NI) Ltd. The word welfare did not come into
it, although vets were involved in it - unless the word was
limited to the farmers' profits and comforts and to human
customers insisting on plentiful supplies of cheap milk at
a price extorted from the cows.
A dialog published in the medical pages of the Sunday Times
Style Magazine (02 June 2002) gives the question-and-answer
view of mastitis, which "occurs when the infection enters
the breast through cracked nipples. According to some studies,
it is contracted by 25% of nursing mothers.
Q: How do you recognise it?
A: Classical signs are flu-like symptoms, muscle aches, fever
chills, pain and a red lumpy area on the affected breast.
If these occur, seek medical treatment immediately. Thank
God I'm not having a baby then."
Consumers, and Kindness
With the title The Milk of Human Kindness: Is this what the
consumer expects? Dr R. J. Esslemont and Dr M. A. Kossaibati,
experts on the dairy industry, of the University of Reading,
School of Agriculture, Policy, and Development, launched into
an indictment of a blindness that besets farmers, consumers,
and supposedly animal welfare organizations when the subject
of the "white stuff" comes up. They were presenting
their views at a conference of the British Society of Animal
Science specially arranged at the University of Reading's
Agriculture Department in September 2002 on the topic of Dairying:
using science to meet consumers' needs.
They stated: "One imagines that the consumer consumes
with ignorance. Dairy farming has a good image. The cows are
outdoors, they are grazing, they lie down and cud, and appear
to not even give you the time of day as you walk by. All must
However, "milk is of course produced by the surviving
[their emphasis] cows, and those animals that have not been
able to cope with the system are culled earlier. What about
the amount of culling of stock that it takes to produce milk?
How many lactations does a cow normally produce? (they provide
the answer: about 3). How many heifers has it taken to be
born and to be reared to keep the herd going? (They answer
this question too: 25% are "wasted" in the process).
Many of the diseases suffered by a cow are invisible to the
consumer. Luckily, thanks to firm conditions laid down about
antibiotics and to pasteurisation, the consumer is unlikely
to be poisoned. The amount of effort now required to get a
cow pregnant and the waste involved in poor production is
not obvious to the dairy buyer or the consumer. There are
more thin cows around and a lot of cows are lame and have
mastitis. The management of body condition by farmers and
advisers seems one of the challenges now faced by the industry."
They continue: "Extra profit is gained per litre via
the higher yields but only just, and who is paying the cost
- the cow? The spreading of fixed costs by raising the litres
produced per man by giving that man more high - yielding cows
to look after may be the short term economic answer, but what
about the mid- to long- term? More disease, poorer fertility,
and more culling. The 'accounting' rules need changing: pain
and suffering need to come into the equation. More attention
needs to be taken of the social behaviour of cattle, particularly
dealing with the effect of the early removal of the calf,
group size, and the effect on the cow of changing group"(They
cite the Farm Animal Welfare Council's latest annual report
in this context).
"The consumer would be surprised to hear that the UK
is practically the only country in Europe not to have a national
disease monitoring system for its cows, nor does it have fertility
improvement and disease resistance in its milk-recording and
bull-proving ambitions." The experts go on to complain
of "Third World" standards in the UK and to the
UK's being "just 30 years behind the Scandinavians. We
also need an independent, accurate, validated system that
scores the farmers' husbandry. To be a livestock farmer, a
licence should be necessary. The other side of that coin is
for the provision of more training of stockmen". (How
often VEGA has called for this and for what follows!)
What the discriminating consumer needs to know (or should
know) is spelt out by these dairy experts as:
- Calf mortality
- Abortion rate (and reason)
- Calves slaughtered due to lack of market
- Calves lost in rearing period (by age and reason up to
- Incidence of dystokia (calving difficulties) (by size
of calf and by breed of calf)
- Proportion of those calved that themselves calve down
- Age distribution at calving
- Weight and height at first calving
- Incidence of disease in rearing period (by age and type)
Calving in the herd
- Dystokia (difficulty in giving birth), abortion, calf
- The incidence (in detail) of periparturient disease: milk
fever, retained foetal membranes, endometritis, vulval discharge
- The incidence of lameness and mastitis (by type and severity)
- The degree of condition score loss post calving
- Fertility indices: per cent served, interval to first
service, heat detection rate, pregnancy rate, calving to
conception, calving interval, failure-to-conceive culling
rate, culling rate breakdown by reasons, age and whether
forced or not
The scientists speak out for the introduction of compassion
(their word) in dairy farming: "There is no good reason
today why farmers and consumers should not see a pattern of
improving health, welfare, and fertility in the national herd
(instead of a deterioration). At present the average herd
in the UK is (compared, not with perfection, but with a reasonable
standard achieved by the top quartile) losing 4 pence per
litre in extra cost and lost profit because of excessive culling,
too much disease and deteriorating fertility. Both better
management, in the short-term, brought about by a determined
quality-assurance scheme (i.e. penalties for the pain inflicted,
and lameness, mastitis, and premature culling all deliver
unnecessary pain), and better breeding, in the long term is
needed. This could be brought about by DEFRA, FAWC, MDC and
the real new Government (the supermarkets) to deliver cost-effective
outcomes. Everyone benefits. The farmer makes more profit
(£3 for every £1 spent), the vet (more effective
use of his time), and the cow (a longer, calmer, and more
consumer-oriented life). The British Society for Animal Science
seems to be the one organisation who can lock the right people
in a room until they come up with a national dairy-cattle
breeding scheme that puts UK dairy-farming into the first
division. That way its members at last may be able to produce
milk (and sleep) with clear consciences."
What a reproach this indictment from within the industry
directs against all those self-styled animal welfarists
and rightists who have prevaricated over these persistent
evils and even become accomplices to them by buying into
the assault on the cow! VEGA goes further than the experts
by promoting alternatives produced from plants without exploitation
of the cow. VEGA also - after all these years since 1976
when the vegetarian Green Plan for farming, food and health,
and the land was launched - urges animal welfare organizations
to engage in the opportunities now for fundamental reforms
in farming policies. Just as customers and consumers they
can act as critical and vociferous purchasers within the
supermarket as effectively as demonstrators without. And
farmers' demos outside supermarkets complaining of poor
prices they are receiving show that they could be much better
occupied by improving their stockmanship. (see The Costs
of Poor Fertility and Disease in UK Dairy Herds by Drs Esslemont
and Kossaibati, agricultural consultants, email Dick@DickEsslemont.co.uk,
PAGE TOP >>