Animal welfare, consumer attitudes go hand in hand

A dairy farmer milks cows at his farm in Saint-Colomban, France, earlier this year. The world’s dairy farmers met recently in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to talk about their industry at the World Dairy Summit.  |  REUTERS/Stephane Mahe photo

Animal welfare must be taken seriously to protect the reputation of the dairy industry.

That was the message delegates at the World Dairy Summit held in Belfast, Northern Ireland, were told.

At the summit, dairy industry welfare and Brexit were among the major talking points.

Animal welfare can be affected by a number of factors as described by Luc Mirabito from the International Dairy Federation.

He also explained how an Animal Welfare Index in a farm environment is a powerful tool to demonstrate good animal husbandry.

Factors such as body condition, injury, cleanliness, lameness and a natural life environment can all affect animal welfare.

Mirabito said farmers have the ultimate responsibility of maintaining good animal welfare practices and said “farmers are the ones citizens trust to deliver professional care and to pay attention to their cows.”

Professor Marie Haskell from SRUC, Scotland’s Rural College, discussed cow personality and behavioural traits.

“These both have a direct impact on herd health and welfare,” she said. “Genetics and the cow’s environment play an equal role in affecting cow behaviour.”

Cow personality can be described as a set of characteristics of an individual that are consistent over time. Milking temperament can be seen as one area of a cow’s personality, Haskell said.

“Cows show consistent behavioural responses in a number of situations. The overall profiles of responses could be called personalities.

“Calmer cows are less likely to be culled and have better resistance to mastitis and easier calvings,” she said.

Personalities are also affected by how an animal is handled and by the cows’ overall response to being with humans.

Some behavioural aspects are bred in from genetics while others can be learned from a young age.

One of the more influencing factors of a cow’s personality is aggression, noticed more in a cow’s response to another cow.

“Aggression can be affected by hunger and space at the feeder,” said Haskell. “The more hungry a cow is, the more she is likely to be aggressive in order to feed.

“If a farm has too many cows for the space available, then cows become more aggressive in order to push their way forward to the food,” she said.

There are a number of factors that also affect the level of cow aggression, which can be addressed by good management.

“Farmers can ensure there is enough water supply for their cows,” said Haskell. “Also, having enough feeding space for the cows is another good practice to reduce aggression. “We have to treat cows as individuals and not just as a group of cows as they all have their own set of personality traits that make them behave in different ways.”

Haskell said farmers should interact with their animals from an early age to increase their calmness later in life.

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