Michael McCarthy: How long before we see indoor units of up to 40,000 cows?

Share
Related Topics

The British view of the countryside, which stubbornly clings on in our national psyche, is clearly an idealised one: the green utopia of quiet harmony, of timeless rhythms and unchanging traditions, to which people dream of retiring, is more and more a construct of the imagination. But it's not all imaginary: we still possess, especially in England, a small-scale, mixed landscape of woods and hedges and fields and farms which is not only charming but somehow feels humane in its intimacy.

Not everywhere, though, nowadays: go to parts of East Anglia and you will find vast hedgeless cereal prairies on the American scale where the "barley barons" grow their thousands of tonnes of grain and where the skylarks and the turtle doves and the poppies have disappeared. This is intensive farming pushed to its limit, where the land is given over to food production and nothing else, and although some may contend that it is necessary, there can be very few people who feel that it lifts the spirit.

And now this sort of industrial intensity is set to move on from the arable sector to the raising of livestock. It can be argued, and it will be argued, that the case of a single dairy farm consisting of 8,000 cows – four times the size of the biggest dairy farm currently operating in Britain, with the cows indoors for most of the time – is not necessarily a bad thing; but most people who are not farmer-businessmen will find it hard to suppress an instinctive shudder at the idea.

Livestock farming still retains much of that small-scale character which gives our landscape its peculiar character – the average dairy farmer in England currently has a herd of 113 cows. In fact, of our 13,500 dairy farms, fewer than 100 produce more than 4 million litres of milk annually, meaning they are likely to have more than 500 animals. We should not forget that the dairy industry has been through very tough times recently, and 400 farmers a year are leaving it, so rationalisation into larger units may become an increasing necessity. But the advent of 8,000-cow indoor units – and it may not stop there, as there are 40,000-cow units in the US – is something about which most people who love our countryside will have serious misgivings.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice