Dairy farming and schemes

Information on hygiene standards and milking practices for UK dairy farmers, with a guide to EU schemes for dairy farmers and producers

This guidance was withdrawn on

Content is now out of date and no longer applies to UK dairy farmers.


Dairy farming is the single largest agricultural sector in the UK, accounting for around 17% of UK agricultural production by value.

This guide explains relevant hygiene standards, milking practices and requirements for dairy farmers and producers. The guide also covers the milk marketing standards for the UK and Europe, together with the EU school milk scheme.

Dairy schemes

The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) runs various EU support schemes for producers of dairy products, such as butter, cheese and skimmed milk powder (SMP). These include private storage aid schemes for butter and the intervention butter price support mechanism.

Private Storage Aid scheme

The Private Storage Aid scheme allow excess production to be stored when prices are low - either permanently or until the market recovers. EU funding is based on storage costs, quality depreciation and possible price increases.

Dairy producers can apply for aid under the Private Storage Aid scheme to store both salted and unsalted butter.

You must register with the RPA and be VAT-registered before you can apply for aid under the Private Storage Aid scheme. Storage facilities must be located in the UK and can be inspected by RPA officials.

Find information about the Private Storage Aid scheme on the RPA website.

Intervention Butter Scheme

The Intervention Butter Scheme supports butter producers and manufacturing creameries by buying excess butter and SMP when prices are low and selling them when they rise.

As with storage aid schemes, purchasing can be temporary or permanent. The storage aid scheme involves resale within the EU, while under permanent purchasing, the stored butter is exported for sale outside the EU after the storage period.

Once bought, the butter shall be stored in a cold storage facility nominated by the RPA and SMP is stored in an RPA-approved warehouse. However, only unsalted butter is eligible for the Intervention Butter Scheme, and there is a minimum quantity of 20 tonnes. The scheme operates between 1 March and 31 August, if prices fall below set levels.

Find guidance on the Intervention Butter Scheme on the RPA website. You can also read about recent changes to the Intervention Butter Scheme on the RPA website.

Milk Quotas Scheme

The amount of milk produced in the UK is subject to a quota. The Milk Quotas Scheme is administered by the RPA. In years where the UK exceeds its total milk quota, producers exceeding their own quota are subject to a levy based on the volume of milk produced in excess of quota.

There are two types of quota for milk - wholesale and direct sale. Wholesale quota covers whole milk which is sold in bulk by a producer to a first purchaser. Direct sales quota covers milk and milk products sold direct by the producer to consumers.

All first purchasers of milk in the UK must be approved by the RPA. Both purchasers and direct sellers have to make an annual declaration to the RPA detailing the amount of milk and/or milk products purchased or sold as appropriate.

The rules relating to the Milk Quotas Scheme can be complex depending on your individual circumstances. If you are considering becoming a milk producer or changing an existing milk production business, you should contact the Milk Quotas Team on Telephone: 01392 365 700.

Alternatively, you can find out about milk quotas on the RPA website.

Cheese recovery

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) publishes guidance on food hygiene procedures for cheese recovery, or the manufacturing and handling of cheese into new products for human consumption.

Several categories of cheeses may be used as raw material:

  • line recovery
  • fines
  • mis-shapes
  • off-cuts
  • downgrade and quality rejects
  • returns
  • cheese contaminated with visible mould not part of production process or final product

Only EU-licensed establishments are allowed to carry out cheese recovery processes.

If not suitable for human consumption, recovery cheese must be disposed of as an animal by-product. All recovery cheese packs should be clearly marked and bear the words “Cheese for further processing”.

See the guide on dealing with animal by-products.

Milking operations

To produce safe raw milk, dairy farmers should maintain strict cleanliness, check milk and animals regularly and prevent contamination.

As far as possible, you should follow basic principles of general cleanliness, as set out in EU regulations. These include:

  • making sure teats, udders and adjacent parts are clean before cluster attachment
  • using pre and post milking teat disinfectants (teat dips and sprays) according to the manufacturer’s instructions
  • keeping dip cups and spray devices visually clean
  • cleaning excessive dung from floors and stallwork
  • keeping milking equipment clean at all times

When checking your milk and animals, you should:

  • examine the milk from each animal at each milking before milking that animal
  • separate abnormal milk and do not use it for human consumption
  • separate milk from animals showing clinical signs of udder disease and do not use it for human consumption
  • identify any animals which are producing milk unfit for human consumption and then mark them to ensure that their milk is kept out of the food chain

Preventing contamination

You should ensure all teats are clean before milking by cleaning every cow and removing visible soiling, such as faeces, bedding, mud and residual post-milking disinfectants. Such cleaning will also reduce the amount of bacteria present.

Avoid dry wiping as this does not remove many bacteria. After thoroughly washing and drying the teats, you should wipe them with disinfectant-impregnated towels or treat with an approved pre-dip solution. This must be effectively removed before cluster attachment - eg by drying with paper towel.

Do not move dusty feeds or bedding materials close to the milking area immediately before or during milking. This is because large volumes of air are drawn into milking equipment during cluster attachment and removal, through air bleeds and during milk transfer.

Keep bungs and covers in place at all times and during milking. There should also be a closure around the delivery pipe into the milk tank. You should ensure milk contact surfaces are made of food-grade materials and kept clean and well maintained.

You should protect milk from contamination during transfer and storage, and cool it quickly to minimise bacterial multiplication. For daily collection, the temperature should not be more than 8°C or a maximum 6°C if collection is not daily.

Site and structure of milking area

Your milking area should be sited and constructed to ensure satisfactory hygienic conditions during milking. The area and immediate surroundings must be kept clean and you should have an adequate supply of clean water in the area for cleaning.

Before milking animals in a cowshed, you should make sure the floor under the cows, dung channels and operator walkways are clean. You should manage these areas during milking to reduce the risk of contamination. Never store milking units in a cow shed.

Milk storage area

A milk storage room is considered a food storage area. As such, it should be used only to cool and store milk, and for the cleaning and storage of milking equipment. The room should be clean at all times and must be sited in a clean area, away from obvious sources of contamination. It is good practice to have separate milk storage rooms and wash up areas.

The room’s design should help maintain hygiene by having, for example:

  • impervious floors, which are free draining to a suitable trapped drain
  • external drainage should not be allowed to enter the room
  • walls that are smooth and easy to clean
  • full height doors in good condition, with smooth surfaces, which fit well and are - kept closed or are self closing
  • a roof/ceiling that is smooth, impervious, easy to clean and dust proof
  • windows that are undamaged and kept closed unless protected by fly-proof mesh
  • adequate fly proof ventilation
  • adequate artificial lighting that is free from rust or flaking paint and fitted with shatter-proof covers
  • water heaters that are sited outside in a clean environment
  • fittings that are smooth and impervious, free from rust and flaking paint
  • compressors and vacuum pumps should not be located in the milk storage room
  • a hose for cleaning the milk storage room

Your hygiene management responsibilities for the milk storage room are vital and should include:

  • adequate facilities for the person doing the milking to wash their hands and arms
  • keeping the room’s approaches and surroundings clean
  • providing a bin and emptying it daily
  • taking preventative measures against vermin, birds and other animals
  • washing troughs and covering them to prevent condensation
  • ensuring proper ventilation - natural or fan-assisted

If you use a separate washroom for milking equipment, it must be constructed and managed on similar lines to prevent milk contamination.

Outdoor milk storage tanks must be:

  • suitably sited - with at least 600 millimetres of clear space around the tank to allow cleaning
  • properly constructed and adequately sealed
  • cleaned and disinfected after each milk collection

If any part of the tank is sited outside the farm’s milk storage area - eg outdoors - you should make sure the tank outlet, air vent and inspection hatch are designed and managed to prevent contamination of milk.

Access to milk storage areas

Access to a milk storage area should be hard standing - eg concrete - and large enough for:

  • clean access for the tanker driver - from cab to milk storage area
  • collection hoses to be placed on clean surfaces

There should be no direct access between the milk storage room and livestock housing or handling areas, toilets or feed stores. If possible, you should ensure there is no direct access to parlours, motor rooms and offices.

Automatic milking systems

If you use an automatic milking system (AMS), the milking area should be closed off as much as possible. You may need to use positive pressure ventilation to force air away from the milking area. The floors immediately below and surrounding the machinery should slope away from the milking area. You should not store any dung or slurry nearby.

Operator hygiene considerations for dairy production

Milk production staff must be trained in food hygiene, health risks and use of equipment. They must have clean hands and forearms before and during milking and milk handling. Any exposed skin wounds should be hygienically covered using the first aid kit, which should be available in the area. Operators must also wear clean outer clothing. The use of latex, or equivalent, gloves is recommended.

Veterinary supervision of dairy farms

You should clearly identify any animal that has been treated with a veterinary product. You should also observe any milk or meat withdrawal periods specified by your vet. Keep any records of the use of veterinary products in a secure place. Veterinary records should be updated within 72 hours with the:

  • date of administration
  • identification of animal(s)
  • product name
  • quantity used
  • milk withdrawal period
  • meat withdrawal period

You must also keep records on feed supplies, disease that may affect the safety of the milk, and results of samples and checks made on animals or their products.

FSA carries out regular inspections of milk producing holdings. Dairy farms must by law register with them and let them know if there are any significant changes to their facilities, or if they stop producing milk for sale for human consumption.

Fore milking and abnormal milk

Fore milking is a way of checking milk for physical, chemical or organoleptic abnormalities. It can help detect mastitis early, removes potentially contaminated milk from the teat canal, and stimulates milk let down.

Abnormal milk or milk from cows with udder disease must not be used for human consumption. You should exclude abnormal milk by:

  • milking affected animals last, with a full sanitiser cleaning routine after each milking
  • milking into a dump bucket or dump line with a clean, well maintained separate cluster and milk tube

Read about stock keeping and milking cattle in the guide on cattle movement and welfare.

Animal health and hygiene on the farm

You should manage animal housing to prevent soiling of the animals, while design features should reduce the risk of contamination from sources such as dust, flies, birds or other animals.

Open parlours are acceptable provided your standards of hygiene management are high. Birds must be excluded, together with excessive dust contamination from outside. The best practice is to use a parlour that can be properly sealed off from other buildings.

Floors should be water resistant and free draining, with all drainage discharged to a suitable drainage system. Roof or loft floors should be made of dustproof sheet material and be easy to clean. False ceilings must be solid, and you should take steps to prevent vermin infestation in the void. There must be enough ventilation to provide clean air and avoid condensation.

Doors and walls should be smooth, solid and easy to keep clean. Make sure there is a fall from the area under the udder so it can be kept clean and free from pooling during milking.

Artificial lighting should ideally be strip lights with shatterproof and waterproof diffusers. It is essential to provide good visibility for all milking and cleaning operations.


Each cow should have access to a cubicle, designs for which should encourage the animal to lie down inside. Use the largest cows in your herd as a guide for the size of the cubicles. Adjusting brisket boards and head rails will help prevent the animals soiling their beds. Good bedding can also minimise soiling and improve animal comfort. Mats or mattresses should be used with absorbent bedding material.

If a cow refuses to use a cubicle and becomes heavily soiled, it must be cubicle trained, culled or kept wherever you can clean it - eg loose housed or at grass.

If you milk cows in a cowshed, the floors under the cows, the dung channels and operator walkways should be kept clean.

Loose yards

Loose yards should not be overcrowded. For average cows of 600 kilograms, you should provide a bedded area of 6.5 square metres (m²) and a loafing area of 2.5m² per animal, with water troughs sited in the bedded area. You should provide daily bedding and completely remove used bedding every four to six weeks.

Animal health

Clean animals are more likely to remain disease-free and are less likely to contaminate milk with harmful bacteria. Improve animal cleanliness by:

  • altering diets to minimise loose dung
  • manually removing dirt
  • grooming your cattle with cow brushes
  • all long tails should be trimmed and all tails should be clipped at housing and again around mid-February, after which they are allowed to grow
  • flaming udders and/or clipping flanks, bellies and udders to reduce the amount of soil or faeces which can stick to these areas

Milk from animals testing positive for tuberculosis or brucellosis - or where there are two inconclusive tests - must not be used for human consumption. You should isolate such animals, milk them last and use a full sanitising routine to clean the equipment afterwards. The milk should then be disposed of.

See the guide on dealing with animal by-products.

Signs of poor health in dairy cattle include:

  • discharge from the genital tract
  • enteritis with diarrhoea and fever
  • infection of the udder

Animals with infectious diseases should also be isolated in facilities with separate drainage and airspace, and good ventilation. Isolation space should be easy to clean and disinfect. You should consider whether you will need to milk in the facility and how you will remove carcasses if necessary.

Animal feed

Dairy farmers receiving direct payments under EU or rural development schemes must satisfy cross compliance requirements, based on food and feed laws. These requirements are listed in the statutory management requirements and domestic legal requirements requiring land to be kept in good agricultural and environmental condition.

SMR (statutory management requirement) 11 is designed to ensure the safe production and use of:

  • food for human consumption
  • food or feed for consumption by food-producing animals

See the guide on farmed animal feed and food law.

Cleanliness of animals and equipment

Milk can be contaminated at any point in the production process. You should identify vulnerable points and introduce protective control measures.

There are several type of contamination:

  • bacterial - eg from poor milking practices, inadequate cleaning, poor disinfection of milking equipment and bulk milk tanks, soiled hands and equipment, or not cleaning and disinfecting teats before milking
  • mastitis pathogens (bacteria), blood and clots - from undetected abnormal milk
  • dung - from soiled animals, especially teats, udders and tails
  • mould spores
  • perished components in milking machines and bulk tanks
  • dust
  • bedding materials
  • insects
  • animal hair
  • chemical contamination from veterinary product residues, cleaning chemicals or through the use of non-food-grade equipment

Preventing contamination at milking

Good milking practices that can reduce the risk of contamination include:

  • examining milk for physical and chemical abnormalities and those detectable by taste, smell, sight or touch (organoleptic)
  • cleaning teats, udders and adjacent parts - eg flanks, hindquarters, tails and abdomen - before milking
  • rejecting any abnormal milk
  • keeping hands, contact surfaces and milking equipment clean at all times
  • keeping all animals clean
  • using lying areas that are big enough, clean and dry
  • keeping passageways, access routes, loafing areas and cubicles free from accumulations of dung, slurry and stale feed, and free draining
  • maintaining fields, tracks and gateways, and keeping them free from dung, slurry and mud

You should thoroughly clean all milking area floors, walls, fittings and touch points after every milking. The upper walls and ceiling should be kept free from dust and cobwebs. Between milkings, animals can have access up to the entrance or exit of the milking area. However, you must prevent dung, slurry and other noxious materials building up on floors, walls and fittings in these areas.

Use of water for cleaning

Use a hose of enough volume and force to wash equipment and cow standings thoroughly during and after milking. Warm running water, preferably containing a suitable disinfectant, should be available to rinse and wash hands, protective clothing, udders and equipment. Provide paper towels and a bin to dispose of them and other waste. Bins should be emptied after each milking.

All water used in the parlour and milk storage room should be either safe to drink or clean water. Use water that’s safe for drinking when washing hands, udders and teats, and for rinsing and cleaning equipment.

Private water supplies must be approved for bacteriological purity by your local authority, which may ask for water supplies to be treated before they can be used for dairy purposes. Header or storage tanks should be protected from contamination by rodents, birds, insects and dust.

Your water supply’s chemical composition will affect your choice of detergents. It will also determine how often you need to use treatments to prevent scale in water heaters or deposits in milking equipment.

In order to clean efficiently, you should ensure that you use:

  • the correct strength of chemicals
  • the correct method for using chemicals
  • an adequate flow rate of the cleaning solution
  • the correct distribution of cleaning solution to all components

You should also hose down equipment to keep it clean during milking, and after each milking and before circulation cleaning, scrub exterior surfaces with a warm sanitiser solution. You should clean interior surfaces using either the hot circulation or acidified boiling water methods.

You should clean vacuum pipelines at least once a month, and check and clean ‘blind’ areas daily. These include clawpiece bungs, buttons, screw-threads and recorder jar reject taps.

Cleaning methods for tanks

You should clean an area at least 600 millimetres around the exterior of tanks. If any part of the tank or silo is outside the milk storage area, you should manage the outlet, air vent and inspection hatch to prevent milk contamination.

You should keep the exterior of tanks clean. You should also clean the interior surfaces every time the tank is emptied by:

  • rinsing with drinkable water
  • cleaning with sanitiser
  • rinsing with drinkable water

Other methods of sanitising the interior of tanks include:

  • manual cleaning with an iodophor solution or chemical powder paste
  • automatic cold cleaning - using an iodophor or acid-based cleaning solution
  • automatic hot cleaning - using a hypochlorite based sanitiser

For hot alkali systems, you will usually also have to treat tanks periodically with milkstone remover. Iodine solutions, however, are in acid, so tanks sanitised with these need periodic cleaning with alkali.

Controlling pests, vermin and other animals

You must take adequate measures to control insects, rodents and birds on the premises to prevent milk contamination, including:

  • removing rubbish and vegetation from around the milking and milk storage areas
  • keeping all feed in closed containers
  • removing waste feed after every milking
  • removing waste milk from the milk storage area after every milking
  • controlling insect and animal pests
  • sketching rodent baiting points and recording when bait is renewed
  • fitting fly screens to windows
  • sealing holes in walls
  • fitting brush or rubber flaps to ill-fitting doors and drainage outlets

Do not allow pets or poultry into the milk storage, milking or animal housing areas.

Milk marketing standards

The EU publishes marketing standards for drinkable milk, and also publishes legal definitions for the terms ‘whole milk’, ‘semi-skimmed milk’ and ‘skimmed milk’.

Milk is defined by the EU as the produce of the milking of one or more farmed animals. Drinking milk is a product intended for delivery or sale, without further processing for consumers, either directly or through intermediaries such as restaurants or hospitals. Drinking milk can be:

  • raw - not heated above 40°C or treated for the same effect
  • whole - heat treated with the fat content of at least 3.5 per cent
  • semi-skimmed - heat treated with fat content of between 1.5 per cent and 1.8 per cent 
  • skimmed - heat treated with fat content of 0.5 per cent maximum

Milk content and modifications

The fat content of milk is defined as the ratio - by mass - of parts of milk fat per hundred parts of milk. Protein content is the ratio by mass of parts of protein per hundred parts of milk. To avoid confusion, you should inform your customers of your milk’s exact nature and composition.

You can modify milk in the following ways:

  • changing the fat content by adding or removing cream, or by mixing with whole, semi-skimmed or skimmed milk
  • enriching with milk proteins, mineral salts or vitamins
  • reducing the lactose content by converting it to glucose and galactose

European school milk subsidy scheme

The aim of the EU-funded school milk subsidy scheme is to encourage children to consume milk and milk products and develop a lasting habit of doing so. Within England, Scotland and Wales the scheme is administered by the RPA.

Pupils regularly attending pre-schools, nursery, primary or secondary schools are eligible under the scheme. Milk or milk products must be distributed to pupils as a mid-morning or afternoon drink, as part of a meal or on breakfast cereal, but not milk used in the preparation of meals.

Nurseries and other pre-school establishments can claim the subsidy through their nursery milk claim. Maintained and self-organising schools would normally claim through their local authority, however it is also possible for them to claim through a milk supplier or through an organisation set up specifically to claim the subsidy on behalf of schools. All claimants must be approved by the RPA

Milk products from cows, goats and sheep are eligible for the subsidy but only:

  • plain whole and semi-skimmed milk
  • flavoured whole and semi-skimmed milk
  • plain yoghurt

Subsidy payments are paid on the actual quantity supplied to pupils - up to a maximum of 250 millilitres per pupil per day. The total subsidy claimed must not be higher than the price paid to the supplier. The prices charged to the beneficiaries may also include up to 7 pence per serving for administration, distribution and refrigeration costs.

Claims for payments under the school milk subsidy scheme must be made to the RPA and are normally claimed at the end of each school term.

The Welsh Government also funds the provision of free school milk, excluding yoghurt, for Key Stage 1 pupils in Wales. The RPA therefore reimburses the full cost of milk supplied to KS1 pupils in Wales.

Schools and pre-school establishments must display a poster in the main entrance stating that they provide subsidised milk.

Further information on dairy farming and schemes

There are several organisations that can help dairy farmers with advice and support for their businesses.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is responsible for policy and regulations on the environment, food and rural affairs. Defra’s milk trade team deals with regulations relating to the nutritional content of drinking milk. You can contact the Defra Milk Team at You can also call the Defra Helpline on 03459 33 55 77.

DairyCo is a levy-funded information centre for dairy farmers, providing business, research and other information to the industry, media and the public. It is a division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board.

DairyCo aims to:

  • provide an information service for the dairy industry
  • help dairy farmers manage environmental needs and regulatory requirements
  • help dairy farmers increase profitability through better business management
  • promote positive views of dairy farming among the general public

Read cattle health and welfare information on the DairyCo website

You can also find business management advice for dairy farmers on the DairyCo website

Find out about DairyCo services for dairy farmers on the DairyCo website

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) is the largest farming organisation in the UK, providing support for members locally, nationally and internationally.

Find out about the NFU’s services on the NFU website

The Food Standards Agency is responsible for drawing up legislation based on European Union regulations or directives on the composition, labelling, marketing and safety of food and animal feed, for guidance on compliance with feed hygiene requirements and for ensuring that food law and animal feed law is enforced. You can contact the Food Standards Agency Helpline on Telephone: 020 7276 8829.

The RPA is responsible for licences and schemes for farmers and traders as well as for running the Single Payment Scheme (SPS). For more information about SPS and how it can help your farming business, together with the other schemes administered by the RPA, you can call the RPA Customer Service Centre on 0345 603 7777.

Find out about the work and services of the RPA on the RPA website

As a farmer, you are also likely to come into contact with local authorities, which are responsible for enforcing various regulations on farming, land use, food standards and environmental matters. Your local authority may also be able to provide further information or resources.

Further information

DairyCo Enquiry Line

024 7669 2051

Food Standards Agency Helpline

020 7276 8829

Defra Milk Team

020 7238 5941

Dairy farming guidance on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website

Private Storage Aid scheme information on the RPA website

Intervention Butter Scheme purchasing guidance on the RPA website

Intervention Butter Scheme changes explained on the RPA website

Milk quotas guidance on the RPA website

Cheese recovery hygiene regulations on the FSA website

Download cheese recovery guidance from the FSA website (PDF, 85K)

British Cheese Board membership guidance on the British Cheese Board website

Download on-farm, small-scale, cheese-making guidance from the DairyCo website (PDF, 2.73MB)

Download milking operations and hygiene procedures information from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website (PDF, 406K)

Milk marketing standards guidance on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website

European school milk subsidy scheme guidance on the RPA website

DairyCo services for dairy farmers information on the DairyCo website

NFU work and services information on the NFU website

RPA work and services information on the RPA website

Published 5 September 2012