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The Welfare of Cows in Indian Shelters

Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics, School of Veterinary Science, University of Queensland, Gatton, QLD 4343, Australia
RSPCA Queensland, Wacol, QLD 4076, Australia
Faculty of Arts and Social Science, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 4343, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(4), 172;
Received: 11 March 2019 / Revised: 3 April 2019 / Accepted: 10 April 2019 / Published: 16 April 2019
(This article belongs to the Section Animal Welfare)
PDF [360 KB, uploaded 22 April 2019]

Simple Summary

The welfare of cows in traditional cow shelters (gaushalas), was assessed on the basis of the measurement of animal- and resource-based welfare parameters and description of the herd characteristics by the manager. A description of the condition of the cows and the resources provided to them is provided in this cross-sectional study. Small space allowance per cow, non-uniform flooring, little freedom of movement, and lack of access to pastures were the key welfare issues observed in the study. Very few cows were recorded as lame, but about half had carpal joint lesions and slightly less had lesions from interacting with shelter furniture. This study will inform the stakeholders about the concept of welfare auditing of the cow shelters, for better welfare and management of the cows in the shelters.


Cow shelters (gaushalas) are unique traditional institutions in India, where aged, infertile, diseased, rescued, and abandoned cows are sheltered for the rest of their life, until they die of natural causes. These institutions owe their existence to the reverence for the cow as a holy mother goddess for Hindus, the majority religion in India. There is a religious and legal prohibition on cow slaughter in most Indian states. A cross-sectional study was conducted to assess the welfare of cows in these shelters, which included the development of a welfare assessment protocol, based on direct animal-based measurements, indirect resource-based assessments, and description of the herd characteristics by the manager. A total of 54 cow shelters in 6 states of India were studied and 1620 animals were clinically examined, based on 37 health, welfare, and behavior parameters. Thirty resources provided to the animals, including housing, flooring, feeding, watering, ease of movement, cleanliness of facilities, lighting, temperature, humidity, and noise levels in the sheds were measured. The study showed that the shelters contained mostly non-lactating cows, with a mean age of 11 years. The primary welfare problems appeared to be different to those in Western countries, as the major issues found in the shelters were facility-related—the low space allowance per cow, poor quality of the floors, little freedom of movement, and a lack of pasture grazing. Very few cows were recorded as lame, but about one half had carpal joint hair loss and swelling, and slightly less had lesions from interacting with shelter furniture. Some shelters also had compromised biosecurity and risks of zoonosis. These issues need to be addressed to aid in ensuring the acceptability of these institutions to the public. This welfare assessment protocol aims to address the welfare issues and problems in the shelters, by providing feedback for improvement to the stakeholders. View Full-Text
Keywords: India; cow shelters; gaushala; welfare; assessment India; cow shelters; gaushala; welfare; assessment
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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MDPI and ACS Style

Sharma, A.; Kennedy, U.; Schuetze, C.; Phillips, C.J.C. The Welfare of Cows in Indian Shelters. Animals 2019, 9, 172.

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