Published in AgroLife Scientific Journal, Volume 3, Number 1
Written by Christoph WINCKLER
Animal welfare is of multi-dimensional nature, and its assessment should be based on a variety of measures. Traditionally, farm animal welfare assessment has focused on ‚inputs’ such as resources and management practices provided to the animals. Especially during the last decade, however, the use of animal-based ‚outcome’ measures has been advocated since they are considered to directly reflect the animals’ state and experience. Considerable efforts have been made and are still being made to develop such mainly animal-based assessment schemes for different farm animal species (e.g. Welfare Quality®, Bristol Welfare Assurance Programme, AWIN). Comprehensive, scientifically sound (i.e. at least valid as judged by experts) assessment protocols are thus available. Potential applications include farm assurance, legislative and/or voluntary certification, use as a farm management tool or research with the different uses partially requiring different approaches. In the second part, this paper addresses selected concerns regarding dairy cattle welfare and provides approaches to welfare improvement: 1) Production-related diseases such as lameness are regarded the most important welfare problem in the dairy industry. Farm individual intervention strategies taking the major factors such as housing and management etc. into account have been shown to effectively reduce lameness prevalence. 2) Restrictions of movement and behaviour around resting. Access to pasture is typically considered positive for cattle welfare but becomes less common. Cows in zero-grazing production systems have to cope with more confined housing conditions in terms of space allowance, social stress, floor properties etc. Of crucial importance are the effects of barn design and management on standing and lying behaviour such as stocking rate, provision of bedding and dimensions and configuration. 3) Painful procedures such as disbudding of calves. Disbudding causes tissue damage and subsequent experiences of pain, which may be assessed using physiological and behavioural indicators. These effects should be alleviated as far as possible, preferably by a combination of sedation, local anaesthesia and anti-inflammatory treatment.