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Applying animal-based welfare assessments on New Zealand dairy farms: feasibility and a comparison with United Kingdom data

Authors: Laven RA, Fabian J
Publication: New Zealand Veterinary Journal, Volume 64, Issue 4, pp 212-217, Jul 2016
Publisher: Taylor and Francis


AIMS: To assess the feasibility of applying animal-based welfare assessments developed for use in Europe on New Zealand dairy farms; in particular, to identify measures which could be evaluated during a single visit at milking time alongside whole herd locomotion scoring.

METHODS: A protocol for animal welfare assessment, developed in the United Kingdom (UK), was evaluated. Measures that were suitable for use on pasture-based dairy farms in New Zealand were then assessed for practicability on 59 farms across New Zealand, during and immediately after milking, alongside whole herd locomotion scoring. Where data were collected the results were compared to those from a UK study of 53 dairy farms.

RESULTS: Thirteen observations of the physical condition of cows were considered suitable for measurement, excluding observations related to hock lesions as they are rarely observed on pasture-based farms. Five of these measures were not assessed as there was not time to do so during milking alongside whole herd locomotion scoring. Thus, the prevalence of dirty flanks, hind limbs and udders, dull coat, thick hairy coat, significant hair loss, very fat cows (body condition score (BCS) ≥7 on 1–10 scale) and very thin cows (BCS≤3), were recorded. Three measures of behaviour were considered suitable for measurement on-farm, but only locomotion score was practicable and was measured. Farmer-estimates for the incidence of mastitis, lameness, sudden death, milk fever and other diseases were also obtained.Overall, dirty flanks, dirty udders and estimated milk fever incidence were more prevalent in this study than in the UK. The prevalence of thin and fat cows, lame cows and estimated mastitis incidence were much lower in the present study than on UK farms.

CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Animal-based assessments can be used on dairy farms in New Zealand, but need to be modified from those developed for housed cows.Welfare on these farms was generally good compared to those in the UK, but these results need to be confirmed on more farms using a wider range of assessments than proved practicable in this study.

KEY WORDS: Dairy cattle, welfare, assessment, pasture, animal-based
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