5 December 1997

FAWC hits out at lack of action on cow lameness

By Tony McDougal

BREEDING companies have been attacked by the governments animal welfare advisers for their failure to address the problems of lameness, infertility and mastitis in dairy cows.

The Farm Animal Welfare Council report, due to be published today (Fri) is particularly critical of lack of progress made on lameness, which is estimated to cost the UK dairy industry £40m a year.

And it says infertility is still the greatest single cause of premature culling in the dairy herd, adding that reduced rates of reproductive success can be an indicator of poor welfare.

Change priorities

Colin Spedding, FAWC chairman, told FW that breeding companies had, in the past, concentrated too much on solely increasing yields, at the expense of lameness and other welfare issues. He urged breeding firms to change their priorities, so they could select positively for animals with good feet.

Prof Spedding said the increasing cow size meant that many old cubicles on dairy farms were now too small and outdated, leading to hind-feet lameness. Slurry on concrete and cattle tracks also contributed to the problem.

While acknowledging that some farmers had little understanding of the cost of lameness to the industry, he said the economic repercussions of mastitis and infertility should be at the forefront of dairy farmers minds.

Alastair Holden, Genus cattle services manager, said the average cost of a case of lameness was now £250 a cow, though this ranged from £99 for a case of digital dermatitis to £450 for a sole ulcer.

"The cost of lameness has been around £40m and the situation is not improving. We are still seeing as many lame cows as ever," he said.

Julie Smith, NFU dairy adviser, said the industry group working on the establishment of the dairy farm assurance scheme for England and Wales would look closely at cow welfare.

The scheme, likely to be up and running by the end of 1998, would have a two-pronged welfare approach. "Assessors will come round all 26,000 dairy farms and assess the farm according to national standards, and there will be vets to monitor herd health and farm records to satisfy standards laid down in the scheme." &#42