New welfare assessments for cows are being proposed for inclusion in the Red Tractor Assurance (RTA) Dairy Scheme.

The industry consultation, open until 22 February 2013, proposes that dairy herds are assessed regularly for measures such as mobility, body condition, hair loss, lesions and swellings, dirtiness and mastitis during farm visits.

This approach aims to improve national dairy herd animal welfare by using outcome scoring as a management tool to measure key welfare indicators directly on animals.

It is hoped that scoring animals on individual farms will improve cow welfare and provide a national benchmark to promote standards achieved by UK dairy producers, who are already noted for achieving world-leading animal welfare standards.

“Delivering good welfare needs to be an element of day-to-day management, with monitoring done on a regular basis by those closely involved with the stock, typically the farmer or stockperson and the veterinary surgeon,” says the consultation paper, published on the Red Tractor website.

“To ensure trends can be monitored over time and to allow benchmarking comparisons with others, a consistent approach to scoring must be applied to at least a representative sample of, if not the whole, herd.”

Improvements to cow welfare don’t come about by the measurements themselves, but the actions they can help inform and initiate, the paper adds.

“On individual farms, jointly scoring a selection of animals will help individual producers maintain consistency with industry-agreed scoring systems, while independently collecting data on a sample of stock.

“Collating such data on an anonymous and aggregated basis into a national database will enable the creation of a statistically robust set of data for benchmarking and reporting industry trends.”

The Red Tractor assessment – every 18 months – will focus more on animals and spend less time looking at related facilities, records and/or management plans.

The welfare assessments aim to improve herd welfare and productivity and show vets the areas dairy farmers can improve.

They will also provide robust scientific evidence on the dairy industry and cow welfare to help defend the industry and support the marketing of Red Tractor dairy products to consumers.

Responses to the consultation should be submitted by Friday 22 February through an online survey.

More on this topic

UK dairy sector keeps improving welfare, says report

Philip Case on G+