Assessment of welfare and productive performance in dairy cows organically reared in plains or hilly areas
The aim of this study was to investigate several production parameters and the level of welfare of organic dairy cows kept in two different geographical and social contexts. The study group included 1,751 cows from 19 organic dairy farms, 11 of which were situated in hilly areas and 8 in plains areas. After an examination had been made of the general characteristics of each farm, the following data were collected: milk production; milk protein and lipid content; somatic cell count (SCC) and microbial count; lameness score (LS); body condition score (BCS) and udder cleanliness score (UHS). Welfare level was assessed using Bartussek's ANI-35-L system and the van Roessel 'prototype for clinical welfare scoring'. Our data indicate that remarkable organisational and management differences exist between the two types of farms: farms in plains areas have a larger number of cattle and are corporate in structure rather than family run. The levels of welfare, health and production were shown to be high in both types of farms, though in some cases higher welfare scores were observed in farms situated in plains areas. The two types of 'welfare scores' we used were positively correlated. Our data indicate that organic farming of dairy cows successfully combines, in the large majority of cases, good levels of productivity, animal health and animal welfare; this latter aspect may be a valuable marketing point for organic milk, considering the propensity displayed by a significant portion of European consumers to buy food produced using systems that assure a high degree of animal welfare.
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