Standard intensive milk production
Dairy cows tend to:
- Be high-yielding breeds such as Holstein-Friesians, which has resulted in a dramatic increase in milk production in recent decades and increased the reliance on concentrate feeds.
- Produce a massive amount of milk. Whereas a beef-suckler cow would naturally produce around 4 litres of milk per day, a dairy cow will produce an average of 28 litres per day over a period of 10 months. During peak lactation, a high-yielding cow may produce as much as 60 litres per day and up to 12,000 litres over her whole lactation.
- Be subject to intensive breeding regimes for high yields. This has led to poor fertility, metabolic disorders and health and welfare problems.
- Have a short productive life. Dairy cows typically only live to their third lactation – at around 5 and a half years old - before being culled. Naturally, a cow can live for 20 years.
- Be permanently housed or have access to pasture during limited periods (e.g. in the dry period, when the cow is not producing milk).
Dairy calves for meat production tend to:
- Have limited market value as a beef breed (due to poor body conformation) and, as a result, will generally either be shot shortly after birth (in the UK) or transported to Europe to be reared for veal, often in intensive systems.
- Be mainly male (as females are largely kept to rear as replacement cows).
- Often suffer from a lack of adequate colostrum intake and therefore be of poor immune status, unable to fight off disease and infection adequately.