Just Published: Welfare of Calves and Adult Dairy Cows

Comparison of selected animal observations and management practices used to assess welfare of calves and adult dairy cows on organic and conventional dairy farms

J. Dairy Sci. 97 :1–12

M. A. Bergman ,* R. M. Richert ,* K. M. Cicconi-Hogan ,† M. J. Gamroth ,‡ Y. H. Schukken ,† K. E. Stiglbauer ,‡
and P. L. Ruegg *1
* Department of Dairy Science, University of Wisconsin, madison 53706
† Quality milk Production Services, Cornell University, Ithaca, nY 14850
‡ Department of animal Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis 97331

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Differences in adoption of selected practices used in welfare assessment and audit programs were contrasted among organic (ORG; n = 192) herds and similarly sized conventional grazing herds (CON-GR; n = 36), and conventional nongrazing herds (CON-NG; n = 64). Criteria from 3 programs were assessed: American Humane Association Animal Welfare Standards for Dairy Cattle, Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM), and the Canadian Codes of Practice (CCP). Data were collected by trained study personnel during a herd visit and included information about neonatal care, dehorning, pain relief, calf nutrition, weaning, record keeping, use of veterinarians, and animal observations. Associations of management type (ORG, CON-GR, or CON-NG) with adoption of selected practice were assessed. Almost all farms (97%) met criteria suggested for age at weaning but fewer CONNG farmers weaned calves at ≥5 wk of age compared with ORG and CON-GR farmers. Only 23% of farms met program requirements for use of pain relief during dehorning, and fewer CON-NG farmers used pain relief for calves after dehorning compared with ORG and CON-GR farmers. Calves on ORG farms were fed a greater volume of milk and were weaned at an older age than calves on CON-GR and CON-NG farms. Calves on CON-GR farms were dehorned at a younger age compared with calves on ORG and CON-NG farms. The calving area was shared with lactating cows for a larger proportion of ORG herds compared with conventional herds. About 30% of herds met welfare program criteria for body condition score but only about 20% met criteria for animal hygiene scores. The least proportion of cows with hock lesions was observed on ORG farms. Regular use of veterinarians was infrequent for ORG herds. Results of this study indicate that most of the organic and conventional farms enrolled in this study would have been unlikely to achieve many criteria of audit and assessment programs currently used in the US dairy industry.