A large range of variables can affect the welfare of the dairy cow, making it difficult to assess the overall 'level of welfare' of the individual animal. Two groups of individuals completed a questionnaire based upon the 'five freedoms': 26 respondents had expertise either in the field
of dairy cow welfare or as practicing veterinary surgeons, and 30 were veterinary students in their penultimate year of study. Conjoint analysis was used to calculate the average importance scores (AIS) for 34 variables presented to the respondents as 52 'model cows' in the form of grouped
questions, phrases and pictures. Conjoint analysis identified the most important factors for each 'freedom': access to forage, body condition score, foot conformation, hock lesions, and the encouragement required for a dairy cow to walk into the parlour. There was a significant difference
between the expert and student groups for seven out of 34 factors, which may be attributed to individual variation of opinion, knowledge, experience and expectation. The factors were ranked within each 'freedom' using the experts' AIS but it was not assumed that each freedom had equal 'weight';
therefore, the factors within each freedom were compared only with factors within the same freedom. These scores produced a weighting scale, which was applied on-farm, in a preliminary exercise comparing 'model' and 'perceived' welfare scores.