Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

Behaviour studies relating to the welfare of intensively managed dairy cows - AW1006

The future will see further rationalisation and intensification of the dairy industry and an increasing focus on the welfare of dairy cows, leading to a clear policy requirement for research to underpin development of MAFF`s welfare recommendations. Experience indicated that industry involvement is essential if welfare research is to lead to changes in practice. We propose therefore to investigate dairy cow welfare in a participative research programme with SAC, The Roslin Institute and Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland (BioSS) as Academic Partners and involving the industry by assessing welfare on dairy units and by linking this project to a pending inductry funded research investigating genotype and environment interaction on production variables (see Appendix 1).

Our main objective is to conduct welfare assessments on a selection of leading UK dairy units (n=35-40) varying in their degree of intensification. We aim to integrate bahvioural assessments of welfare with data on physical injury, health and production, and to relate these variables to the intensity of production, the type and quality of housing, and the genotype of the cow.

We have chosen this approach because (1) there is insufficient data at present to indictae the extent of behaviour/welfare probelms resulting from intensive dairy farming in the UK; (2) it would be premature to select a subset of conditons/factors in a designed experiment without baseline knowledge of the extent of welfare problems and their likely causes; (3) there are signifiacnt constraints set by the size and expense of working with cows on the type of detailed experimental design which can be applied; (4) at SAC, RI and BioSS we have developed behavioural tools which are sensitive to the animal`s psychological state which can be applied in this project to measure the impact of intensive dairy farming on psychological well-being; (5) in terms of housing design it is important to consider the range of housing conditions which can affect welfare; (6) it is essential that genetics are considered in any welfare assessment given the importance of genetic improvement of milk yield to the dairy industry over recent years. By balancing genetic merit across units varying in farming intensity we will investigate genetic x environment interactions on behaviour and welfare; (7) the well managed farms that we propose to study will be part of comprehensive recording schemes (e.g. The Holstein-Friesian Society) allowing us to access additional important data on cow temprament, locomotion scores, production, health and fertility.

This project will provide: (1) an integrated assessment of dairy cow welfare under a range of UK farming conditions; (2) an understanding of the impact of housing duration, housing quality and genotype on cow welfare; (3) the basis for objective criteria to be applied in QA schemes and Codes of Practice to ensure high welfare standards in the future.
01 Identification of sample farms, development of measurement protocols, and pilot studies on farm (0-6 months)
02: Data collection on farms (6-30 months)
Project Documents
• Final Report : Behaviour studies relating to the welfare of intensively managed dairy cows   (244k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2000

To: 2003

Cost: £358,319
Contractor / Funded Organisations
University - Scottish Agricultural College
Animal Welfare              
Plants and Animals              
Fields of Study
Animal Welfare