Animal Welfare Assessment: Can We Develop a Practical, Time-Limited Assessment Protocol for Pasture-Based Dairy Cows in New Zealand?
School of Veterinary Science, Massey University, Palmerston North 4442, New Zealand
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(10), 1918; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10101918
Received: 16 September 2020 / Revised: 9 October 2020 / Accepted: 16 October 2020 / Published: 19 October 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Animal Welfare)
Systematic welfare assessment protocols are increasingly being used as a tool to demonstrate animal welfare and to drive improvements within the industry. Despite dairy products from New Zealand trading on the ‘green’ image of extensive pasture-based farms, dairy cattle welfare is not routinely assessed on most New Zealand farms, and there is no industry-recognised protocol for such assessment. Drawing on protocols and studies from across the world, this project aimed to create a science-based but practical assessment of dairy cow welfare that could be undertaken as a single one-day visit with a focus on assessment around milking time. After in-farm testing, this project identified 32 assessments which could form a part of such a protocol. Although further testing is required, this protocol could form the basis of a standardised assessment of dairy cow welfare on New Zealand dairy farms.
Despite being a leading producer and exporter of dairy products, New Zealand has no industry-recognised welfare assessment protocol. A New Zealand-specific protocol is essential, as almost all dairy farms in New Zealand are pasture-based and housing is rarely used. Therefore, protocols developed for intensive cows are not suitable. The aim of this study was to develop a simple yet practical welfare assessment protocol that could be used to assess the welfare of a dairy herd during one visit timed to occur around milking. Six welfare assessment protocols and four studies of dairy cattle welfare assessments that had some focus on dairy cattle welfare at pasture were used, along with the New Zealand Dairy Cattle Code of Welfare, to identify potential assessments for inclusion in the protocol. Eighty-four potential assessments (20 record-based and 64 that needed assessing on-farm) were identified by this process of welfare assessments. After screening to exclude on-farm assessments that were not relevant, that had only limited practical application in pasture-based dairy cows or that required more time than available, 28 on-farm assessments remained, which were put together with the 20 record-based assessments and were tested for feasibility, practicality and time on two pasture-based dairy farms. Assessments were then identified as suitable, suitable after modification or not feasible. Suitable and modified assessments were then included in the final protocol alongside additional measures specific to New Zealand dairy farms. The final protocol included 24 on-farm assessments and eight record-based assessments. Further testing of these 32 assessments is needed on more dairy farms across New Zealand before the protocol can be used to routinely assess the welfare of dairy cows in New Zealand.