Large Herd Does Not Mean Worse Cow Welfare

AUSTRALIA – There is no evidence that larger herd size means compromised cow welfare, a study of Australian dairy farms has shown.
calendar icon 2 June 2015
clock icon 2 minute read

A PhD study looking at welfare outcomes has shown that, while larger herd size was associated with risk factors for welfare, cow contentment is maintained.

In a paper discussed at the Pan Pacific Veterinary Conference last week, Dr David Beggs of the Animal Welfare Science Centre, University of Melbourne, said 95 per cent of 863 farmers believed their cows were “content most of the time”.

“This can probably be explained by larger enterprises having access to better training and education of staff, routine veterinary herd visits, separate milking of the main herd and the sick cows, transition diets before calving and written protocols for treatment of disease,” Dr Beggs told the conference.

He stressed that while larger farms pose a potential threat to cows due to more walking, higher stocking densities and milking times, the greater level of training and automation often seen on larger farms benefits cow welfare.

“Larger enterprises are more likely to have modern rotary dairies that reduce milking time,” said Dr Beggs.

“They may also be more likely to have infrastructure to electronically identify, monitor and feed individual cows, they may be more likely to use professional advice and provide superior nutrition, and they may have greater capacity for staff training and general quality assurance systems.”

The study represented 260,000 cows over an average herd size of 304 and was prompted by a 37 per cent rise in herd size over the last ten years.

Australia is expecting cow numbers to continue growing, with 33 per cent of surveyed farmers planning on increased calvings in the coming year.

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