ARCHIVE: Veterinary surveillance: Cattle
This page gives an introduction to cattle farming in the UK and how we look out for diseases of cattle. It has links to other pages on the Defra website. You can find further information on other websites by following the link at the bottom of this page.
Cattle farming in the UK
Cattle in the UK are mainly used for producing milk or for producing beef. They are known as dairy cattle or beef cattle. There is very little veal production in this country. We do not use cattle commercially for “draught” - that is, for pulling carts or ploughs.
There are many different breeds of cattle. Different breeds are generally used for different purposes. The most important dairy breed is the Holstein. Beef breeds include Limousin, Charolais, Simmental, Hereford and Aberdeen Angus. Most breeds have a breed society which keeps details of the pedigrees of cattle. Most societies have their own websites.The work of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust helps to support those breeds in danger of disappearing.
There are a few herds of buffalo kept for milk production. Their milk is used to make mozarella cheese. They are susceptible to most of the important diseases of cattle, so legislation about cattle diseases applies to them as well.
The UK has an important dairy industry. We are the 7th largest milk producer in the world and the 3rd largest in Europe. Although largely self sufficient in milk overall, we import and export significant quantities of milk products. We eat about 1,000,000 tons of beef a year and produce about 700,000 tons of it ourselves.
How many cattle are there in the UK?
Altogether there are about 10 million cattle in the UK. There are a little over 2 million adult dairy cows in the UK, a little under 2 million adult beef cows, and about 6 million younger animals.
Everyone who keeps cattle must be either registered with Defra or the appropriate devolved administration. All cattle have to be identified by numbered tags fixed permanently to their ears. These numbers are recorded in a database by the Cattle Tracing System. Farmers must report all births, deaths and movements of their cattle to this system.
We collect this information from Great Britain into the RADAR system.
This allows us to produce accurate, up-to-date reports of the national cattle herd, as well as reports for particular areas or particular times. We have used it to produce a map of the numbers of cattle in different areas of Great Britain.
The RADAR Cattle Population dataset has enabled us to produce an informative Cattle Book about the industry.
We also collect information about the numbers and types of cattle during a census of farmers in June every year. This gives us an estimate of the total numbers of cattle in the country as a whole at that time. We have produced a map (PDF 548 KB) using the census results for the UK.
We have separate information for dairy cattle and beef cattle. It is broken down by the age of the animals, whether or not they are intended for breeding, and whether or not they have had a calf. As well as the total number in the different countries of the UK, the information can be broken down by county. Records are available for 2004 PDF and from earlier years.
Looking for cattle diseases
Many people are involved in looking out for cattle diseases.
As well as the continuous scanning surveillance we carry out regular testing programmes for tuberculosis, brucellosis and enzootic bovine leukosis. The results for Great Britain are published each year in the Report of the Chief Veterinary Officer.
Some of the testing for tuberculosis is carried out by local veterinary inspectors and some by veterinary officers of the State Veterinary Service (SVS). The same people may carry out blood testing for brucellosis and enzootic bovine leukosis (EBL). Some of this testing is also done by Animal Health Officers of the SVS.
Meat inspectors of the Meat Hygiene Service look for for signs of tuberculosis and EBL during the post mortem inspection of animals slaughtered for meat.
Which are the most important diseases of cattle in the UK?
Different diseases are important to different groups of people. From the point of view of the Government, the most important infectious diseases of cattle present in the UK are probably BSE, tuberculosis, brucellosis, bovine viral diarrhoea, and salmonella. Brucellosis has been eradicated from Great Britain but is still present in Northern Ireland.
From the point of view of the farmer, the most important conditions are probably mastitis, lameness, infertility, metabolic diseases, calf pneumonia, calf diarrhoea and Johne’s disease.
What other diseases do we look out for?
We also keep a look out for cattle diseases which do not usually occur in this country. The most important of these exotic diseases is foot and mouth disease. Other important ones are rinderpest, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia, and bluetongue. News from other countries about these diseases helps us plan how to keep them out.
- VLA Cattle Disease Surveillance Reports
- Other websites - These sites may be useful if you are interested in further information about cattle in the UK. Please note that Defra does not necessarily endorse the content, information or opinions of these sites.
- Farming pages on the Defra website.
Page last reviewed:
20 March 2007
Page last modified: May 4, 2010