GB dairy cow population: younger cows give boost to milking herd

Tuesday, 19 December 2023

In October the GB milking herd stood at 1.66million head, a slight (0.1%) increase on the same month of the previous year. In contrast, youngstock (under 2 years) declined by 24,000 head (2.5%) year on year to stand at 926,000 head.

The slight increase in the total milking herd was driven by an increase in the number of cows aged 2-4 years. This category increased by 30,000 head (4.0%) to a total of 788,000 head. This increase represented the entry of younger cows into the milking herd for the fifth consecutive quarter, a consequence of the sharp increase in dairy births seen in 2021. There may also be a seasonal element to this increase as we saw cows entering the milking herd in October from Autumn calving herds.

GB female dairy population

Graph showing the GB dairy female population

Source: BCMS

All other age categories recorded year on year declines in cow numbers. Youngstock were down 24,000 head (2.5%) which may have reflected low farmer confidence in the face of challenging market conditions, meaning that they pulled back on production. The greatest proportional decline was seen in the 6-8 years category, down 6.3% (16,000 head).  

There is a steady decline in average age in the milking herd, down to 4.58 years from 4.65 years last year. This reflects the culling of older less productive cows in favour of new cattle as farmers are looking to make efficiency gains, especially in the face of current high input costs and low milk prices.

Annual change in GB dairy herd by age as at 1 October 2023

Graph showing the annual change in the GB dairy herd by age

Source: BCMS

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Becky Smith

Analyst (Livestock)

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