Animal Production Science Animal Production Science Society
Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals
REVIEW

Dairy cow welfare: the role of research and development in addressing increasing scrutiny

A. D. Fisher A C and J. R. Webster B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Faculty of Veterinary Science and Animal Welfare Science Centre, The University of Melbourne, 250 Princes Highway, Werribee, Vic. 3030, Australia.

B AgResearch Ltd, Ruakura Research Centre, East Street, Private Bag 3123, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand.

C Corresponding author. Email: adfisher@unimelb.edu.au

Animal Production Science 53(9) 924-930 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN12276
Submitted: 6 August 2012  Accepted: 24 February 2013   Published: 9 April 2013

Abstract

Pasture-based dairying in New Zealand and Australia has come under increasing animal welfare scrutiny as a result of changing public expectations for farm animal management. Concurrently, efficiency-driven changes in dairy management practices and a broadening of the feedbase beyond traditionally grazed pasture have resulted in increased intensification and stocking density within the dairy industries. This intensification has included a higher proportion of grain concentrates in the diet (particularly in Australia), and the greater management of cows off pasture and even in housing (particularly in New Zealand). Research to assess the animal welfare implications of these changes and to recommend good practice management has concentrated on issues of cow environments and cow feeding, including body condition. Research has shown that cows may be managed for a few hours per day on concrete surfaces without compromising their lying behaviour and other indicators of welfare, but that longer periods off pasture require the provision of a well drained and comfortable lying surface. Other research has defined the extremes of hot and cold/wet conditions beyond which cows benefit from provision of adequate shade and shelter. Research on cow body condition has indicated that welfare responses are aligned with measures of health and productivity in supporting the need to maintain a minimum body condition before calving and during the subsequent weight loss period of early lactation. Continued research, extension and industry adoption will enable dairy producers to address community expectations as they continue to change their farming practices.

Additional keywords: animal welfare, body condition, intensification.


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