Preliminary investigation into the use of expert opinion to compare the overall welfare of dairy cattle farms in different farm assurance schemes
This paper describes an approach to assessing the overall welfare of cows on dairy farms. Veterinary and behaviour experts were shown results for ten selected welfare parameters for 25 pairs of dairy farms paired for farm assurance status but with similar geographical location and husbandry system. From this information alone they were asked to state which farms had better welfare. Overall, there were no significant differences between the conclusions of veterinary and behaviour experts. There was a significant relationship between the proportion of experts rating a farm as poorer and the measured difference in the number of cows with lameness or rising restrictions between the paired farms. There were no significant relationships between the expert decisions and differences in milk yield, flight distance, swollen hocks, mastitis incidence, dystocia level, conception rates, prevalence of thin cows and proportion of cows with dirty udders. Clearly, experts rate lameness and discomfort as highly important indices of poor welfare in dairy cows.
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