Animal welfare and dairy cattle production systems

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Article 7.X.1.


Dairy cattle production systems are defined as all commercial cattle production systems where the purpose of the operation includes some or all of the breeding, rearing and management of cattle intended for production of milk.

Article 7.X.2.


This chapter addresses the welfare aspects of dairy cattle production systems.

Article 7.X.3.

Commercial dairy cattle production systems

Commercial dairy cattle production systems include:

1. Housed or confined

Rationale: Editorial

These are systems where cattle are kept housed in confinement and are fully dependent on humans to provide for basic animal needs such as food, shelter and water on a daily basis. The type of the housing will depends on the environment, climatic conditions and management system. The animals may be loose housed or tethered, within this housing system.

2. Pastured

These are systems where cattle have the freedom to roam live outdoors, and where the cattle have some autonomy over diet selection (through grazing), water consumption and access to shelter. Pastured systems exclude any housing except that required for milking.

3. Combination systems

These are systems where cattle are managed in exposed to any combination of housed housing, confinement or and pasture husbandry methods production systems, either simultaneously, or varied according to changes in climatic conditions or physiological state of the cattle.

Article 7.X.4.

Criteria (or measurables) for the welfare of dairy cattle

The following outcome-based criteria, specifically animal-based criteria, can be useful indicators of animal welfare. The use of these indicators and their appropriate thresholds should be adapted to the different situations where dairy cattle are managed. Consideration should also be given to the design of the system. These criteria can be considered as a tool to monitor the efficiency impact of design and management, given that both of these can affect animal welfare will be affected by both system design and stockmanship.

Rationale: Sentence is redundant with language in the preceding paragraph: “These criteria can be considered as a tool to monitor impact of design and management, given that both of these can affect animal welfare.”

Consideration should also be given to the design of the system and stockmanship.

1. Behaviour

Certain behaviours could indicate an animal welfare problem. These include decreased feed intake, altered locomotory behaviour and posture, altered lying time, human-animal relationship, altered respiratory rate and panting, coughing, shivering and huddling, grooming and the demonstration of stereotypic, agonistic, aggressive, depressive or other abnormal behaviours (Wiepkema et al., 1983; Moss, 1992; Desire et al., 2002; Appleby, 2006; Mason and Latham, 2004; Lawrence, 2008; Chapinel et al., 2009).

2. Morbidity rates

Morbidity rates, including for infectious and metabolic diseases such as mastitis and metritis, lameness, metabolic diseases, parasitic diseases, post-partum and post-procedural complications and injury rates, above recognised thresholds, may be direct or indirect indicators of the animal welfare status of the whole herd. Understanding the aetiology of the disease or syndrome is important for detecting potential animal welfare problems (Blecha, 2000). Mastitis, lameness, reproductive and metabolic diseases are also particularly important animal health problems for adult dairy cows. Scoring systems, such as body condition, lameness scoring and milk quality, can provide additional information (Sprecher et al., 1997; Roche et al., 2004; EFSA, 2012)

Rationale: Editorial suggestions. Because these issues area already mentioned, the first sentence is explanatory, rather than new information as suggested by “also”.

Post-mortem examination is useful to establish causes of death in cattle. Both clinical and post-mortem pathology could be utilised as an indicator of disease, injuries and other problems that may compromise animal welfare.

Rationale: Similar such language is not proposed for Chapter, and the reasons for including this paragraph specifically in the Dairy chapter are not clear.

Both clinical examination and pathology should be utilised as an indicator of disease, injuries and other problems that may compromise animal welfare. Post-mortem examination is useful to establish causes of death in cattle.

3. Mortality and culling rates

Mortality and culling rates, affect the length of productive life, and like morbidity rates, may be direct or indirect indicators of the animal welfare status (Moss, 1992). Depending on the production system, estimates of mortality and culling rates can be obtained by analysing the rate and causes of death and culling and the their temporal temporo and spatial patterns of mortality occurrence. Mortality and culling rates should can be reported recorded regularly, i.e. daily, monthly, annually or with reference to key husbandry activities within the production cycle.

Rationale: Similar such language is not proposed for Chapter, and it is not clear why “and culling” is specifically needed in this Dairy chapter. The inserted text is redundant as relevant information is captured in morbidity/mortality rates and the cause of death.

4. Changes in milk yield, body weight and body condition

In growing animals, body weight gain (failure to achieve appropriate changes outside the expected growth rate curve) especially excessive sudden loss may be are anindicators of poor animal health and animal health and animal welfare. Future performance, including milk yield and fertility, of replacement heifers can be affected by under or over-nutrition at different stages of rearing.

In lactating animals, body condition score outside an acceptable range, significant body weight change and significant decrease in milk yield may be indicators of compromised welfare (Roche et al., 2004; Roche et al., 2009).

In non-lactating animals, including bulls, body condition score outside an acceptable range and significant body weight change may be indicators of compromised welfare.

Rationale: Similar such language is not proposed for deletion in Chapter, and it is not clear why “animal health and” is specifically deleted in this Dairy chapter, but retained in the Beef Welfare chapter.

5. Reproductive efficiency

Reproductive efficiency can be an indicator of animal health and animal welfare status. Poor reproductive performance, compared with the expected standard for that particular breed, can indicate animal welfare problems. Examples may include:

Rationale: Highly productive Holstein dairy cows are sub-fertile, (Moore and Thatcher, 2006) and this is directly tied to their level of milk production. Further, milk yield is genetically correlated with a number of serious production diseases including mastitis (Schukken et al., 1990; Van Dorp et al., 1998; Heringstad et al., 2003), lameness, and ketosis (Fleischer et al., 2001; Van Dorp et al., 1998). To compare reproductive efficiency with an “expected standard” for the breed could result in a false negative diagnosis of animal welfare problems, because the fertility standard for the Holstein breed is too low.
The United States strongly suggests removing the text “compared with the expected standard for that particular breed” because even though the whole population may be sub-fertile, the welfare problems remain and reproductive efficiency continues to be a valuable indicator of the problem.
Moore K and Thatcher W. 2006. Major advances associated with reproduction in dairy cattle. Journal of Dairy Science 89:1254–1266.
Heringstad B, Klemetsdal G and Steine T. 2003. Selection responses for clinical mastitis and protein yield in two Norwegian dairy cattle selection experiments. Journal of Dairy Science 86:2990-2999.
Fleischer P, Metzner M, Beyerbach M, Hoedemaker M and Klee, W. 2001. The relationship between milk yield and the incidence of some diseases in dairy cows. Journal of Dairy Science, 84(9)2025-2035.
Van Dorp TE, Dekkers JC, Martin SW, and Noordhuizen JP. 1998. Genetic parameters of health disorders, and relationships with 305-day milk yield and conformation traits of registered Holstein cows. Journal of Dairy Science 81(8):2264-70.
Schukken YH, Grommers FJ, Van de Geer D, Erb HN and Brand A. 1990. Risk factors for clinical mastitis in herds with a low bulk milk somatic cell count. 1. Data and risk factors for all cases. J Dairy Sci 73:3463-3471.

anoestrus or extended post-partum interval prolonged post-partum anoestrus,

– low conception rates,

– high abortion rates,

– high rates of dystocia,

retained placenta,


– loss of fertility in breeding bulls.

6. Physical appearance

Physical appearance may be an indicator of animal health and animal welfare, as well as the conditions of management. Attributes of physical appearance that may indicate compromised welfare include:

– presence of ectoparasites,

– abnormal coat colour, texture or hair loss,

– excessive soiling with faeces, mud or dirt (cleanliness),

– abnormal swellings, injuries and lesions,

discharges (e.g. from nose, eyes, reproductive tract),

– feet abnormalities,

abnormal posture indicating pain (e.g. rounded back, head low),

– emaciation and dehydration.

7. Handling responses

Improper handling can result in fear and distress in cattle. Indicators could include:

– evidence of poor human-animal relationship, such as excessive flight distance,

– negative behaviour at milking time, such as reluctance to enter the milking parlour, kicking, vocalisation,

percentage of animals striking restraints or gates,

percentage of animals injured during handling, such as bruising, lacerations, broken horns and fractured legs,

percentage of animals vocalising abnormally or excessively during restraint and handling,

disturbed behaviour in the chute or race such as reluctance to enter behaviour,

percentage of animals slipping or falling.

8. Complications due to from routine common procedures management

Rationale: Editorial suggestion to clarify that the examples apply to the three previously listed bases for performance, rather than simply to “treatment of certain conditions”.

Surgical and non-surgical procedures may be performed in dairy cattle for improving animal performance, facilitating management, and improving human safety and animal welfare, and treatment of certain conditions (e.g. disbudding, hoof trimming, displaced abomasum.) However, if these procedures are not performed properly, animal welfare can be compromised. Indicators of such problems could include:

– post procedure infection and, swelling and pain behaviour,

reduced feed and water intake

post procedure body condition and weight loss,

morbidity and mortality.

Article 7.X.5.

Provisions for good animal welfare

Ensuring high welfare of dairy cattle is contingent on several management factors, including system design, environmental management, and stockmanship which includes responsible husbandry and provision of appropriate care. Serious problems can arise in any system if one or more of these elements are lacking.

Each recommendation includes a list of relevant outcome-based measurables derived from Article 7.X.4. This does not exclude other measures being used where appropriate.

1. Recommendations on system design and management including physical environment

When new facilities are planned or existing facilities are modified, professional advice on design in regards to animal health and welfare, should be sought (e.g. Milk Development Council, 2006).

Many aspects of the environment can impact on the health and welfare of dairy cattle. These include heat and cold, air quality, lighting, noise, etc.

a) Thermal environment

Although cattle can adapt to a wide range of thermal environments particularly if appropriate breeds are used for the anticipated conditions, sudden fluctuations in weather can cause heat or cold stress.

i) Heat stress

The risk of heat stress for cattle is influenced by environmental factors including air temperature, relative humidity, and wind speed, animal density (area and volume available per animal), lack of sufficient shade, and animal factors including breed, age, body condition, metabolic rate and stage of lactation, and coat colour and density (West, 2003; Bryant et al., 2007).

Animal handlers should be aware of the risk that heat stress poses to cattle and of the thresholds in relation to heat and humidity that may require action. As conditions change, routine daily activities that require moving cattle should be amended appropriately. If the risk of heat stress reaches very high levels the animal handlers should institute an emergency action plan that could include provision of shade, fans, easy access to additional drinking water, reduction of animal density, and provision of cooling systems as appropriate for the local conditions (Igono et al., 1987; Kendall et al., 2007; Blackshaw and Blackshaw, 1994).

Outcome-based measurables: feed and water intake, behaviour, including especially respiratory rate and panting, morbidity rate, mortality rate, changes in milk yield.

ii) Cold stress

Protection from extreme weather conditions should be provided when these conditions are likely to create a serious risk to the welfare of cattle, particularly in neonates and young cattle and others that are physiologically compromised. This could be provided by extra bedding and natural or man-made shelters (Manninen et al., 2002).

During extreme cold weather conditions, animal handlers should institute an emergency action plan to provide cattle with shelter, adequate feed and water.

Outcome-based measurables: mortality and morbidity rates, physical appearance, behaviour, including especially abnormal postures, shivering and huddling, growth rate curve, body condition and weight loss.

b) Lighting

Confined Housed cattle that do not have sufficient access to natural light should be provided with supplementary lighting which follows natural periodicity sufficient for their health and welfare, to facilitate natural behaviour patterns and to allow adequate and safe inspection of the cattle (Arab et al., 1995; Dahl et al., 2000; Phillips et al., 2000). The lighting should not cause discomfort to the animals. Housed dairy cows should be provided with subdued night time lighting.

Outcome-based measurables: behaviour, especially altered locomotory behaviour, morbidity, physical appearance, mobility

Request: We could not find technical information supporting this recommendation. The United States would appreciate being provided the scientific support for how lighting affects dairy cattle locomotory behavior, morbidity, and physical appearance.

c) Air quality

Good air quality and ventilation is an are important factor for the health and welfare of cattle by reducing the risk of respiratory discomfort and diseases. It Air quality is affected by air constituents such as gases, dust and micro-organisms, and is influenced strongly by management and building design in housed systems. The air Air composition is influenced by the stocking animal density, the size of the cattle, flooring, bedding, waste management, building design and ventilation system.

Rationale: “Poor air quality and poor ventilation are risk factors for respiratory discomfort and diseases” is suggested for deletion as it is repetitive to the information in the first paragraph.

Although the prescriptive standard that ammonia “not exceed 25 ppm” has been adopted into other production system chapters ( and, the United States requests that the OIE Animal Welfare chapters continue to strive for outcome-based parameters. The concern is not with the prescriptive standard, per se. In fact, the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA) has an 8-hour limit of ammonia exposure at 25 ppm in the workplace.

We are proposing this new language that is taken from the information on the risks of ammonia exposure provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences.

Proper ventilation is important for effective heat dissipation in cattle and to preventing the build-up of effluent gases (e.g. ammonia and hydrogen sulphide), including those from manure storage systems, and dust in the confinement housing unit. Poor air quality and poor ventilation are risk factors for respiratory discomfort and diseases. The ammonia level in enclosed housing should not exceed 25 ppm. Harmful ammonia levels cause a strong, unpleasant and irritating smell, strong taste, and may cause skin, eye, nose or throat irritation, in humans, and are also likely harmful for cattle.

Outcome-based measurables: morbidity rate, behaviour, mortality rate, behaviour, especially respiratory rate or panting, coughing, changes in weight and body condition score or, growth rate curve.

d) Noise

Cattle are adaptable to different levels and types of noise. However, exposure of cattle to sudden and unexpected noises, including from personnel, should be minimised where possible to prevent stress and fear reactions. Ventilation fans, alarms, feeding machinery or other indoor or outdoor equipment should be constructed, placed, operated and maintained in a manner that minimises sudden and unexpected noise.

Request: We could not find technical information supporting this recommendation. The United States would appreciate being provided the scientific support for how noise alters dairy cattle locomotory behavior, and causes changes in milk yield.

Outcome-based measurables: behaviour especially altered locomotory behaviour, changes in milk yield.

e) Flooring, bedding, resting surfaces and outdoor areas

In all production systems cattle need a well-drained and comfortable place to rest (Baxter et al., 1983; Baxter, 1992; Moberg and Mench, 2000; Bell and Huxley, 2009; O’Driscoll et al., 2007). All cattle in a group should have sufficient space to lie down and rest at the same time (Kondo et al., 2003; Barrientos et al., 2013; Chapinal et al., 2013).

Particular attention should be given to the provisions for calving areas. The environment in such areas (e.g. floors, bedding, temperature, calving pen and hygiene) should be appropriate to ensure the welfare of calving cows and new born calves (Sepúlveda-Varas et al. accepted)

In housed systems calving areas should be thoroughly cleaned and provided with fresh bedding between each calving. Group pens for calving should be managed based on the principle ‘all in - all out’. The group calving pen should be thoroughly cleaned and provided with fresh bedding between each animal group. The time interval between first and last calving of cows kept in the same group calving pen should be minimised.

Outdoor calving pens and paddocks should be selected to provide the cow with a clean and comfortable environment. (See also 7.x.5.1 point 2 point i.)

Floor management in housed production systems can have a significant impact on cattle welfare (Ingvartsen et al., 1993; Rushen and de Passillé, 1992; Barkema et al., 1999; Drissler et al., 2005). Areas that compromise welfare and are not suitable for resting (e.g. places with excessive water and faecal accumulation, wet bedding (Fregonesi et al., 2007)) should not be included in the determination calculation of the area available for cattle to lie down.

Slopes of the pens should be maintained to allow water to drain away from feed troughs and not pool excessivelyin the pens.

Facilities Flooring, bedding, resting surfaces and outdoor yards should be cleaned as conditions warrant, to ensure good hygiene and minimise disease risk.

In pasture systems, stock should be rotated between paddocks to ensure good hygiene and minimise disease risk.

Some form of bedding should be provided to all animals housed on concrete. In straw, sand or other bedding systems such as rubber mats, crumbled-rubber-filled mattresses and waterbeds, the bedding should be suitable (e.g. hygienic, non-toxic) and maintained to provide cattle with a dry and comfortable place in which to lie (Fisher et al., 2003; Zdanowicz et al., 2004; Bell, 2007; Bell and Huxley, 2009;Fregonesi, et al., 2009).

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