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Better monitoring will be fundamental to efforts to improve dairy cow welfare, says Dick Esslemont, who calls for the introduction of a scientifically designed and rigorously implemented national cow and calf recording scheme
FOLLOWING several recent reports on animal welfare and on new approaches to veterinary intervention (FAWC 2009a, 2009b, Lowe 2009) the NFU recently produced a Dairy Cow Welfare Strategy calling for the supply of independent, impartial and expert information on disease and productivity in dairy herds (NFU 2010).
Monitoring schemes, developed to show that farmers are delivering quality-assured milk, are often lightweight and the results are mostly kept secret. The NFU's strategy document describes the state of health and welfare of the dairy industry without mentioning disease and welfare statistics. It may be that putting figures into print is too worrying for a producer organisation or it may be because there are too few up-to-date indices available.
The NFU's document does set out a plan, if only in outline, for better monitoring of health and welfare in dairy herds. This is likely to be a far larger task than suggested. However, it may be that, sooner or later, the EU will impose a rigorous scheme on member states (EFSA 2009). The key to the monitoring of animal welfare, and hence the understanding of where the problems actually are, is to do more than to record the treatments carried out by a group of volunteer practitioners. Full data are needed on, at least, a representative, randomly selected sample of dairy farms, across all farming systems, accounting for such factors as size of herd, breed and yield level.
Ideally, all dairy farms should be fully recorded, with a well-designed disease, production and management recording system. All cattle movement, milk recording and pedigree data need integrating into …