CZAAWE Resource Article

A survey of Australian dairy farmers to investigate animal welfare risks associated with increasing scale of production
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Journal of Dairy Science
Although large herds (more than 500 cows) only represent 13% of Australian dairy farms, they represent more than 35% of the cows milked. A survey of Australian dairy farmers was conducted to assess relationships between herd size and known or proposed risk factors for adverse animal welfare outcomes in Australian dairy herds in relation to increasing scale of production. Responses from 863 Australian dairy farms (13% of Australian dairy farms) were received. Increasing herd size was associated with increases in stocking density, stock per labor unit, and grain fed per day all of which could reasonably be hypothesized to increase the risk of adverse welfare outcomes unless carefully managed. However, increasing herd size was also associated with an increased likelihood of staff with formal and industry-based training qualifications. Herd size was not associated with reported increases in mastitis or lameness treatments. Some disease conditions, such as milk fever, gut problems, and down cows, were reported less in larger herds. Larger herds were more likely to have routine veterinary herd health visits, separate milking of the main herd and the sick herd, transition diets before calving, and written protocols for disease treatment. They were more likely to use monitoring systems such as electronic identification in the dairy, computerized records, daily milk yield or cell count monitoring, and pedometers or activity meters. Euthanasia methods were consistent between herds of varying sizes, and it was noted that less than 3% of farms make use of captive-bolt devices despite their effectiveness and ready availability. Increasing herd size was related to increased herd milking time, increased time away from the paddock, and increased distance walked. If the milking order of cows is consistent, this may result in reduced feed access for late-milking-order cows because of a difference in time away from the paddock. More than 95% of farmers believed that their cows were content most of the time, and cows were reported as well behaved on more than 90% of farms. Although the potential animal welfare issues appear to be different between herd sizes, no evidence existed for a relationship between herd size and adverse welfare outcomes in terms of reported disease or cow contentment levels.