Dairy cow welfare

There have been improvements in some areas of the welfare of dairy cows, such as the longevity of animals but issues related to lameness, mastitis, housing and infectious disease remain areas of concern. Working with farmers, vets can take a leading role in addressing these issues, such as through Herd Welfare Plans, breeding plans and improved housing conditions.

BVA position

BVA is encouraged by the advances which have been made by the dairy industry in addressing welfare issues but feel that further progress is required.

  • BVA believes that veterinary surgeons must continue to take an active role in the promotion of welfare on dairy farms and the education of farmers.
  • Whilst improvements have been seen in some areas concerning the welfare of dairy cows, e.g. the longevity of animals, issues related to lameness, mastitis, housing and infectious disease remain areas of concern.
  • BVA believes that veterinary surgeons should work with farmers at individual farm level to formulate a ‘Herd Welfare Plan’, which could be written in parallel with their ‘Farm Health Plan’.
  • BVA acknowledges that there have been moves within the farming industry which place a greater importance on non-production traits (longevity, fertility, somatic cell count and locomotion) when breeding dairy cows. However it is recommended that farmers should consult with their veterinary surgeons to devise a suitable breeding plan if particular welfare concerns are identified within a herd.
  • BVA acknowledges that housing the modern dairy cow can be a significant challenge to UK dairy farmers; however much can be done to existing buildings to achieve the high welfare standards which good housing can provide.
  • BVA believes that the impact of TB on cow welfare should not be underestimated. Not only are alarming numbers of cows being slaughtered each year as reactors, but the health and welfare of animals is potentially at risk on farms placed under movement restrictions.
  • BVA supports retailers who reward farmers financially for improving welfare standards for dairy cows and their calves.

BVA activity

Dairy cow welfare was initially raised at the BVA Animal Welfare Foundation Discussion Forum in April 2009. As a result:

  • the Ethics and Welfare Group considered the issue at their meeting in May and November 2009, along with a BCVA representative
  • we produced a policy statement on dairy cow welfare
  • a press statement was issued in December 2009 which called for vets to educate farmers to improve dairy cow welfare
  • in March 2010 the BVA wrote  Nocton Dairies letter to North Kesteven Council about the Nocton Dairies planning application for a 8000-plus dairy cow farm

Further information

  • FAWC opinion on the welfare of the dairy cow
  • EFSA report on the effects of farming systems on dairy cow welfare and disease and opinions on: metabolic and reproductive problems; behaviour fear and pain; udder problems; leg and locomotion problems; the overall effects of farming systems
  • Defra cattle welfare code