Interpretive Summary: Assessing dairy cow welfare during the grazing and housing periods on spring-calving, pasture-based dairy farms.
By: Dr. Emily Taylor
A vital component of all livestock production is animal welfare. There are on-farm welfare assessment protocols within the dairy industry to provide animal-based indicators of the cow's experience within her environment. These existing assessment protocols are designed to evaluate animals when housed; however, they do not consider the grazing period in pasture-based dairy systems. Therefore, to optimize cow welfare, the objective of this study was to devise and conduct an animal-based welfare assessment during both the grazing and housing periods.
Large Irish, spring-calving, pasture-based dairy farms were used to identify areas for improvement and establish benchmarks for various animal-based indicators of welfare. Seven animal-based welfare indicators, including mobility scores, body condition scores, ocular discharge, nasal discharge, integument alterations, tail injuries, and avoidance distance, were measured during the grazing and housing periods. The authors observed over 9% clinically lame cows during the study. Recommended BCS were not met for 13% and 23% of cows at grazing and housing, respectively. While ocular discharge was uncommon in both grazing and housing, there was a higher prevalence for moderate and severe nasal discharge during the grazing period. Grazing and housing did not differ in the percent of tail injuries. Integument alterations, primarily hair loss, were most prevalent on the hindquarters during grazing and on the head, neck, and hindquarters during housing. Greater than 1m avoidance distance from approaching humans was observed in both grazing and housing.
Overall, the authors were able to identify improvements for tail injury prevention, nasal health, and the management of indoor housing and feeding. Their benchmarks included: 0-5% clinical lameness, 0-12% of cows outside BCS recommendations, 0-27% ocular discharge, 2-16% nasal discharge, 0% tail lacerations and docked tails, 0-3% tail breaks, 0-14% integument alterations, and 4-74% for an avoidance distance of >1m. Authors recommend these benchmarks be used as attainable targets for spring-calving pasture-based farms to promote good dairy cow welfare.
The full paper can be found on the Journal of Animal Science webpage.