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This content is taken from the University of Reading's online course, The Future of Farming: Exploring Climate Smart Agriculture . Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 28 seconds We are here at the Centre for Dairy Research of the University of Reading, which is home to a modern dairy herd of over 500 cows. While a few centuries or even decades ago, it was fairly normal for a farmer to have a small number of cows– maybe some chickens, sheep, and a number of different kinds of crops to support his family and other members of the community– farms nowadays are highly specialised businesses that usually focus on producing one single product, such as milk.

Skip to 0 minutes and 59 seconds In developed countries, cows haven’t been milked by hand for a number of decades, but by the aid of milking machines such as this here.

Skip to 1 minute and 11 seconds Today, the average size of a dairy herd in the UK is 120 animals. And some of the big farms have 1,000– maybe even up to 2,000– cows. So you can imagine that in order to ensure profitable milk production, these farms have to be run as very well-managed businesses. And they’re normally run by a small number of very well-trained staff.

Skip to 1 minute and 35 seconds From a number of milk bottles and cheese packaging, you will be familiar with a picture of a cow grazing outside in pastures. But there is an increasing tendency to keep dairy cows indoors, in sheds like this one, for longer periods of time during the day.

Skip to 1 minute and 58 seconds One of the most important aspects of dairy farming– if not the most important aspect– is cow health and well-being. If a cow is unwell, her milk yield can drop within hours or days. And if she needs medical treatment, the milk will have to be discarded for a number of days, which means a financial loss for the farmer. So one important aspect of cow welfare is the access to enough food and water to produce milk. Regardless of the hierarchy within the group, each cow needs to have enough space to take up sufficient food in order to produce large amounts of milk.

Skip to 2 minutes and 37 seconds One obvious function of cowsheds is that they protect the animals from the elements, so that the cows have a space where they’re protected from sun, heat, or rain. In the future, it is expected that cows will increasingly suffer from heat stress due to climate change. So they do need to have a space where they’re cool and in the shade. Another risk that is likely to arise due to climate change is a new geographical distribution of certain pests and diseases. So with new climatic conditions, these cows here might be exposed to diseases and pests they haven’t been exposed to so far.

Skip to 3 minutes and 15 seconds In addition to cow health and welfare, the shed has also been designed to ensure the efficiency of the running of the processes on the farm. For example, the cows have to be in close proximity to the milking parlour.

Skip to 3 minutes and 30 seconds Milking generally takes place twice a day, and again, in the milking parlour, hygiene is of utmost importance. This is not only a place of food production, but the cow udder is also a very sensitive organ, which needs cleaning and disinfecting before and after milking.

Skip to 3 minutes and 56 seconds The milk of old cows then flows into large tanks, where it’s cooled down immediately in order to avoid bacterial growth. Usually, once a day, a truck comes to the farm, which picks up all the milk and brings it to the next processing plant. Before the milk is processed any further, though, samples are taken and sent off for laboratory analyses, which provide information about milk quality and animal health.

Cow husbandry and wellbeing

Dairy farming in developed countries has changed significantly since cows were first domesticated. In this video, we’ll visit the Centre of Dairy Research of the University of Reading where Dr Marie Dittmann will explain how dairy cows are kept today.

Do you think the welfare of cows and other livestock can be met in intensive production systems? Share your thoughts in the comment area below. Don’t forget you can ‘like’ or reply to comments posted by your fellow learners.

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This video is from the free online course:

The Future of Farming: Exploring Climate Smart Agriculture

University of Reading