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Animal welfare assessment and Labelling

Assessing dairy cow welfare during the grazing and housing periods on spring-calving, pasture-based dairy farms

By May 5th 2021July 7th, 2021No Comments

Document type : Scientific article published in the Journal of Animal Science

Authors: Robin E Crossley, Eddie A M Bokkers, Natasha Browne, Katie Sugrue, Emer Kennedy, Imke J M de Boer, Muireann Conneely

Preview: The different periods characterising spring-calving, pasture-based dairy systems common in Ireland have seldom been the focus of large-scale dairy cow welfare research. Thus, the aim of this study was to devise and conduct an animal-based welfare assessment during both the grazing and housing periods on spring-calving, pasture-based dairy farms, to identify areas for improvement and establish benchmarks for indicators of good welfare. Assessment of seven animal-based welfare indicators was conducted during two visits (one each at grazing and housing) to 82 commercial dairy farms in southern Ireland. Herd-level descriptive statistics were performed for all welfare indicators at each visit, and differences between visits were analysed using paired t-tests and Wilcoxon signed-rank tests. A mean of 9% and 10% clinically lame cows (mobility scores 2 and 3) were observed at housing and grazing, respectively. Recommended body condition scores (BCS) were not met for a mean of 13% of cows at grazing and 23% at housing, with more over-conditioned cows present at housing than grazing (P < 0.001). Ocular discharge was uncommon in both periods. Prevalence of moderate and severe nasal discharge combined was lower during housing (5%) than grazing (7%). In both periods, similar mean levels of tail injury were observed: 2% to 3% of cows with tail lacerations, 9% with broken tails, and 8% (measured at housing only) with docked tails. Integument alterations involved primarily hair loss and were most prevalent on the hindquarters (26%) during grazing and on the head-neck-back (66%) and the hindquarter (32%) regions during housing. Cows displayed an avoidance distance of >1 m (indicative of a fearful response) from an approaching human in an average of 82% of grazing cows and 42% to 75% of housed cows, dependent on test location. Opportunities to improve welfare in this system were identified in the areas of tail injury prevention, nasal health, and the management of indoor housing and feeding. The performance of the top 20% of farms for each welfare indicator was used to establish benchmarks of: 0% to 5% clinical lameness, 0% to 12% of cows outside recommended BCS, 0% to 27% ocular discharge, 2% to 16% nasal discharge, 0% tail lacerations and docked tails, 0% to 3% tail breaks, 0% to 14% integument alterations, and 4% to 74% for avoidance distance of >1 m. These represent attainable targets for spring-calving pasture-based farms to promote good dairy cow welfare.

From the Journal of Animal Science website