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Detailed Analysis by Country
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- United Kingdom
Performance of Animals
The reasons for the changes in animal numbers, especially in cattle, are to be found in the evolution of performance, including milk production.
Germany, the Netherlands and Britain are characterized by very high levels, reaching 7.000 L per cow per year. Meanwhile, Ireland, with a production based on grazing systems, has a lower production.
This map is similar to the one presenting the European distribution of dairy cows with, however, some well-known differences to underline:
High production in northern Italy due to intensive production systems
A high amount of production in the south of Sweden
Less production in the countries of Eastern Europe, in particular Romania.
The marked element of dairy production during last decades is to be found in the evolution of dairy production per animal.
This graph presents the production measured within the framework of dairy control in France. It indicates that, in 25 years, the production per dairy cow has increased considerably (from 4.700 L per animal in 1982 to more than 7.500 L per animal in 2006) (Source: Contrôle laitier).
Such an evolution has many causes and consequences.
The reasons for this increase are mainly due to the evolution of the genetic type of the dairy animals used. Most production today relies on Prim’Holstein, the other races have decreased significantly. Among the other races of mixed breed that are maintained in Europe, we can mention Simmental, Montbéliarde, and to a lesser extent Normande.
After the evolution of the genetic type, another cause of the increase is due to the modification of food intake, which became more concentrated in energy and proteins. More and more often, it is obtained, firstly by the use of preserved forage, secondly by a food supplement based on soybean meal or other oilseeds.
The consequences are of two orders.
The first is the ability of animals to use the different types of forages. As a result of the modification of the food intake previously mentioned, dairy animals with very high levels of performance will use less grazed grasses and more preserved forage, hence there is a change in the mode of harvest and conservation.
The second consequence is that fewer animals produce the same amount of milk at the country level.
However, since 1984, the European Union and its various members manage dairy production within the framework of a mode of dairy quotas allotted by country. Those are then redistributed between various farms, the market of the quotas being governed either by the state, or by the supply and demand within each country.
This graph illustrates the evolution of dairy production in France since the integration of these quotas in 1984. It appears that these quotas come with a sharp reduction in production moving towards the French quota (22.4 billion litres in 2006).
Thus it appears that in the situation where the amount of milk produced is constant and the potential production per dairy cow increases, the number of dairy cows needed to achieve the same production will decrease, which resulted in a significant decrease in the number of animals at the level of each country.
However, a reduction in number of cows means a reduction in the number of calves, whose function is to ensure the replacement of the adults in milk production and to produce meat. The reduction of this source of meat thus leads to a reduction of the resource. However, at the same time, in most European countries, the consumption of red meat did not significantly decrease, which gave the opportunity to other racial types to grow, especially as suckler cows completely dedicated to the production of meat.
These principal breed types are Limousine, Charolais, Angus or Hereford.
The reduction and the specialisation of the dairy herd and the emergence of a suckler herd has resulted in particularly marked changes in agricultural land, including a concentration of milk production in lowland areas and a concentration of production of suckler cows in mountainous environment, semi-mountainous or plane terrain.
This has important consequences for the development of these territories.
In the analysis of the animal performances, it is also worth mentioning the evolution of other species, in particular sheep and goats.
As per the figure below illustrating the French example (Source: CNIEL), we have seen over the last forty years a dramatic increase in the production of goat and sheep milk, these two productions not being subjected to the national quotas.
This phenomenon is accomplished with a constant herd, also reflecting a considerable increase in production per animal, which is related to the increase in genetic potential of the animals and to the improvement of animal food, as in the case of dairy cows.
Over an Extended Period of Time
By observing milk collection, in particular the collection of cow’s milk, over longer periods, we find that reduction which occurs from the 1980s tends to the fixed quotas should not make forget the tremendous increase of the quantity of collected milk since 1950s.
This explosion in milk collection is due to the establishment of high-performance third party industry, very well organised, technically efficient and very structured for all of the agricultural land.
Any thoughts on the evolution of production systems, at the level of farms or of agricultural land, must integrate the structure and strategy of these dairy industries.