To evaluate the effect of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Freedom Food (FF) scheme on the welfare of dairy cattle in England, 28 FF and 25 non-FF farms were assessed during the winter of 2000 to 2001. The assessments were based on a protocol which included the examination of the farms' records, the farmers' estimates of the incidence of disease, and independent observations of the behaviour and physical condition of the cows. The data were analysed to identify which measures of welfare were affected by FF membership and to assess the number of farms on which intervention would be required, as defined by a panel of 50 experts. The FF farms had better results for 12 of the welfare indicators, including those for mastitis, non-hock injuries, cow cleanliness and body condition, and poorer welfare indicators for eight of the measures, including hock injuries, lameness and restrictions in rising behaviour. Except for the prevalence of dull coats (which was lower on the FF farms) there were no significant differences in the proportions of FF and non-FF farms on which intervention was required according to the experts' assessment.
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