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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Demographics of cattle movements in the United Kingdom

Matthew C Vernon

Author Affiliations

School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick, Gibbet Hill Road, Coventry, UK

BMC Veterinary Research 2011, 7:31  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-7-31

Published: 28 June 2011

Abstract

Background

The United Kingdom (UK) government has been recording the births, deaths, and movements of cattle for the last decade. Despite reservations about the accuracy of these data, they represent a large and valuable body of information about the demographics of the UK cattle herd and its contact structure. In this article, a range of demographic data about UK cattle, and particularly their movements, are presented, as well as yearly trends in the patterns of movements.

Results

A clear seasonal pattern is evident in the number of movements of cattle, as are the reductions in movement volume due to foot and mouth disease outbreaks in 2001 and 2007. The distribution of ages of cattle at their time of death is multimodal, and the impact of the over thirty months rule is marked. Most movements occur between agricultural holdings, markets, and slaughterhouses, and there is a non-random pattern to the types of holdings movements occur between. Most animals move only a short distance and a few times in their life. Most movements between any given pair of holdings only occurred once in the last 10 years, but about a third occurred between 2 and 10 times in that period. There is no clear trend to movement patterns in the UK since 2002.

Conclusions

Despite a substantial number of regulatory interventions during the last decade, movement patterns show no clear trend since 2002. The observed patterns in the repeatability of movements, the types of holdings involved in movements, the distances and frequencies of cattle movements, and the batch sizes involved give an insight into the structure of the UK cattle industry, and could act as the basis for a predictive model of livestock movements in the UK.