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Promoting the welfare of dairy animals

For a dairy farmer to be successful at producing milk of good quality, the welfare needs of dairy animals must be met.

Welfare needs should be considered from the perspective of the animal. An animal’s basic needs –are linked to addressing the essentials for life in the first instance, beyond which the achievement of good welfare centres around the availability of improved living conditions that may ultimately translate into improved productivity.
An animal is in good state of welfare if it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour, and if it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. Animal welfare refers to the physical and mental state of the animal in relation to the conditions in which it lives and dies. This differs from the treatment that an animal receives which is covered by other terms such as animal care, animal husbandry, and human treatment.
Animal care is the application of sensible and sensitive animal husbandry practices to livestock on the farm as a lead up to good animal welfare. Good animal welfare requires the pursuit of disease prevention strategies and adoption of appropriate veterinary care, shelter, management and nutrition, a stimulating and safe environment, humane handling and humane slaughter or killing (OIE Article 7.1.1). In dairy production systems, this will include not only animals producing milk, but also the newborn, young female animals to be used as replacements, dry cows, breeding bulls and males in rearing units.
Good animal welfare has not only a positive effect on production, but also on the economic performance of the farm. “One welfare” links animal welfare, farmer wellbeing and the environment and promote objectives such as food security, safety, public health, and sustainability (FAO, 2009; OneWelfare, 2018).

Good dairying practice of animal welfare is underpinned by the framework provided in The Five Freedoms that describe an animal’s fundamental needs (FAWC 2009). Animal management practices should aim at keeping animals:

  • Free from thirst, hunger and malnutrition
  • Free from discomfort
  • Free from pain, injury and disease
  • Free from fear and distress, and
  • Able to engage in normal patterns of animal behavior

The use of animals carries with it an ethical responsibility to ensure the welfare of such animals to the greatest extent practicable. (OIE Article 7.1.2 (6))

The dairy sector supports animal welfare

The dairy sector is committed to implementing best practices to ensure animal welfare based on scientific evidence and reference standards. The IDF promotes the implementation of good animal welfare practices in dairy production at global scale and refers to key Standards.

We identify five key action areas to be considered when developing and implementing quality management systems for dairy animal welfare.

Our five action areas for good animal welfare

Good stockmanship

Good stockmanship underlies the success of the dairying operation. The handling of animals should foster a positive relationship between humans and animals and should not cause injury, panic, lasting fear or avoidable stress.

Proper Nutrition

Animals should have access to sufficient feed and water, suited to the animals’ age and needs, to maintain normal health and productivity, and to prevent prolonged hunger, thirst, malnutrition or dehydration.

Adequate Physical Environment

Dairy cattle in commercial production may be kept in housed or pastured systems, or a combination of both and should have a good milking environment and facilities, feedlot areas and yards for holding animals, as well as adequate housing – a plan should be in place to manage and evacuate animals in case of disaster situations.

Responsible Husbandry Practices

Animals should be treated with care and kindness; milking should be comfortable and subjected to as little pain as possible. They should have a safe, adequate place to give birth, and should be transported in line with national regulations.

Robust Health Management

Veterinarians are trained animal health professionals and their advice should be sought in all matters of animal health management. Health management plans should meet relevant national and international veterinary requirements.

If you want to know more, please see  Bulletin of the IDF N° 498/2019: The IDF Guide to Good Animal Welfare in Dairy Production 2.0

This detailed guide is a collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). It is intended for use by farmers, organisations, dairy processors, and farmer organisations.

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