VetSalus has recently completed an international project which aimed to assess dairy farmer attitudes to Animal Welfare. In collaboration with XLVets colleagues in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, a survey was developed and distributed to over 200 farmers. The United Kingdom results have now been analysed and a number of interesting points have emerged.

The survey was distributed via XLVets Farm clinics to 111 dairy farms in 9 regions of the U.K., the South West provided over half of the replies and so the results reflect the views of that region particularly strongly. Herd sizes varied between less than 100 cows to over 1,000.

When asked about the most useful data to collect for animal health and welfare assessment farmers ranked clinical mastitis, lameness and medicines usage as most important and these rankings varied very little by region. Interestingly, data collection methods for medicines use and mortality were mostly limited to either paper or digital, with a high total choosing digital only.

Other questions probed views on farmer perceptions about the proportion of normal tails (i.e undocked or undamaged) within a herd; ‘greater than 90%’ was the most common response with many respondents replying ‘greater than 95%’. Given that tail docking, other than for medical reasons, is illegal in the UK the results may appear a little low? Is it possible that some respondents may have viewed the clipping of tails as an abnormality or that there is an increased prevalence of broken tails than previously recorded?




The survey further reports that the prevalence of body condition scoring varies considerably between farms with 1-3 times a year being most common but 20% of farms do not body condition score at all. The most useful indications of animal welfare included calf health, use of pain relief and the quality of feed available to livestock. But when production parameters, that might also be animal welfare measures, were considered in the assessment, antibiotic usage, longevity and reproductive records, such as pregnancy rate, were also judged to be useful.

The survey was designed to collect the most readily available and valuable data which could be used to assess animal welfare in UK herds. In New Zealand the XLVets group is involved in the delivery of WelFarm (1), and VetSalus continues to explore collaboration opportunities with such schemes in the UK and beyond. This survey reveals a high level of awareness on UK dairy farms about the value of readily available data in the assessment of animal welfare.

We thank our colleagues at XLVets UK, XLVets NZ and WelFarm for the opportunity to collaborate on this insightful project.

A comparison of this data with NZ data will be released in due course.



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