The population of the GB dairy herd was 1.8% (50,000 head) lower as of April 2018 compared to the same period the year before, according to the latest data from BCMS. Meanwhile, the milking herd has only marginally declined, falling by 0.4% (8,000 head) on the year.
The reasons behind the falling dairy cow population
The drop has been mainly driven by a reduction in the number of heifers aged between 1-2 years, which declined by 7.6% (35,500 head) on the year. This is not unexpected as, over the past four years, there has been a continual move away from dairy inseminations in favour for beef (read more here). As a result, there is a significant reduction in the pool of herd replacements available to go into the herd.
The UK dairy cow population is changing
The number of dairy cows at peak production (4-6 years), which has been in decline since October 2016, fell by 26,000 head in the past year. With the price of dairy sired cull cows rising in recent months, farmers may have an incentive to cull older cows at a faster pace than normal. Since December 2017, the cull cow price has increased by 24p/kg to reach 117.76p/kg in May, the highest the price has been since June 2013.
Meanwhile, the number of cows in early lactation (2-4 years) increased by 2.7% (21,500 head) year-on-year, counterbalancing the loss of the number of cows in peak production. This has left the overall number of cows in the milking herd relatively unchanged year-on-year, although yields are likely to be affected. GB milk production this year from January-April was down 0.5% compared to the same period last year, which may in part be driven by the changing dynamic of the milking herd.