Dairy sector strategy to improve animal welfare

Milk producers are being urged to improve animal welfare with the help of a new strategy highlighting areas for improvement.

Backed by farm leaders, the Dairy Cow Welfare strategy is described as a groundbreaking vision that includes a 10-point industry action plan to ensure British farmers maintain their world-beating livestock standards.

Areas for improvement include the on-farm recording of health and welfare, mastitis management, and lameness. It follows recent concern over dairy farming and welfare issues.

NFU dairy board chairman Mansel Raymond said: “British dairy farmers already operate to world leading animal welfare standards, but there is always room for improvement. Farmers know that a healthy cow is a productive cow.”

Although responsibility for dairy cow welfare fundamentally rested with dairy farmers, Mr Raymond said the whole supply chain benefited from good welfare standards on farm.

“It is fair to say the industry does not always have the evidence base it needs to arm itself against negative allegations and this strategy is the first step in identifying any gaps in our knowledge.”

A report last year by the Farm Animal Welfare Council called on the sector to address a number of issues. “The incidence of endemic diseases in dairy cows, particularly mastitis and lameness, should be reduced urgently,” it said.

Lameness continues to be a major reason for premature culling, typically accounting for 10% of early deaths. There is no evidence that lameness is increasing, but levels of sub-clinical mastitis have risen in the past decade.

The strategy has won support from the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association, DairyCo, Holstein UK, the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers and the Cattle Health and Welfare Group.

John Avizienius, deputy head of farm animal science at the RSPCA, said: “It is very encouraging to see the industry taking such a forward-thinking, co-ordinated approach to addressing some of the issues associated with modern dairy cow welfare.”