Did you know that there are more cows in Britain than there are people in Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester put together?
We drink around 5 billion litres of milk in Britain each year – the equivalent of 2,000 Olympic-size swimming pools – but many of us rarely think about the journey that milk makes from farm to fridge.
Milk production begins with the dairy cow – the single most important component of the farm. The farmers on all 12,500 of Britain’s dairy farms make sure their cows are given the best possible care with nutritious feed, plenty of water and spacious barns and pastures.
British dairy cows wear ear tags with a unique number which can also be found on the special cattle passports that farmers keep for each cow. The system helps farmers to log important information such as dates of births and details of where the cows have been throughout their lives.
There really is no such thing as the average dairy farm – there are farms of all shapes and sizes in Britain, from small herds to farms with more than 1,000 cows, and different farming systems including organic and conventional, grazed and housed.
The majority are located in the western parts of the British Isles where the warm, wet climate gives ideal conditions for grass growth – the cow’s favourite food.
Dairy farms use modern milking parlours including robotics. Typically, these are operated by the farmer and his staff, although some are entirely automated to allow the cows to choose when they want to be milked. Dairy cows are usually milked twice daily – in the morning and again in the afternoon, with the average UK farm producing 2,000 litres of milk every day.
To keep the milk at 4ºC – about the same as your fridge at home- it is stored in a tank before it is collected by a special milk tanker for transportation to the dairy for processing.