by Joseph.M. Stookey
Advances in Dairy Technology Vol. 6. Proceedings of the 1994 Western Dairy Canadian Dairy Seminar. pp 209-219.
The obvious intent of a question posed in this manner is to explore the possibility that some aspects of intensive dairy production may be incompatible with good animal welfare. Or, at the very least, the question acknowledges that there may be a perception, by some people, that intensive dairy production impinges upon the animal's welfare. Regardless, both situations require an understanding of what is meant when we use the term "animal welfare". Unfortunately, a concrete scientific definition of animal welfare has never been agreed upon even among scientists working in this area. Much like the term "love", everyone seems to agree animal welfare exists, but the concept defies explanation and there is little agreement on the meaning. Scientists do seem to agree that animal welfare refers to a continuum and not to a simple yes or no end point. Arguments about animal welfare are certain to surface when scientists, veterinarians, producers and the public debate the point at which animal welfare is unacceptable. In the meantime, it is of utmost importance to remember that animal welfare, or an animal's well being, can be improved or made worse depending upon the point at which one begins the comparison and the criteria used. There is no question whether animal welfare or an animal's well being is important, certainly it is to the animal itself. The controversy begins when humans, with varying backgrounds, knowledge, incentives and prejudices, begin discussing what is acceptable or unacceptable animal welfare. Discussions about animal welfare become even more complex because they involve the concerns of animals whose form of communication differs from our own. Perhaps the most useful tool in the art of negotiations or discussions is the ability to listen to and understand each participant's viewpoint. In animal welfare discussions this means taking into consideration views held by ourselves, our critics and our animals.
When agriculturists become pro-active and speak out against what we feel are unjust criticisms, we often use examples which we think are proof of our concern for our animals. We attempt to convey the message that we are, in fact, the original animal welfare advocates since, throughout our history, we have had animal welfare concerns. I refer to these examples as traditional producer welfare concerns.
the question of whether intensive dairy production is compatible with animal
welfare we need to consider the welfare concerns not only from the perspective
of the producer, but also from that of the general public and, even more
importantly, the animal itself. In fact, several scientists suggest that
the very important key to understanding acceptable animal welfare lies
in understanding the animal's viewpoint and its "feelings" about its environment
or conditions in which it lives (Duncan and Petherick, 1989; Webster, 1993).
Some have argued that welfare in not compromised unless the animal physiologically
or psychologically feels that its welfare is compromised. With this in
mind it is worth discussing what the dairy animal may feel about its environment
under intensive systems.
The animal's response to its caretaker is an excellent example of the level of fear or comfort an animal "feels" while in the presence of its owner. Albright (1983) believes the best test for cowmanship is whether the cows approach the herdsmen in the pasture (best), or turn away and run as he approaches (worst), or just stand still when he comes closer (neutral). Such responses are not solely dependent upon temperament, which is highly heritable in cattle, but depend also upon handling and previous learning experiences. Most species have a distinct sensitive period shortly after birth, in which socialization to man influences future reactions. Surprisingly, dairy calves handled positively on a routine basis from 0-3 months of age showed the same level of fear as unhandled controls when tested at 15 months of age (Boissy and Bouissou, 1988). It appears that positive handling is required throughout the growing period of the dairy heifer in order to reduce the fear response in the older heifer.
For years it was suggested that the "contented cow gives more milk". Several researchers reported that the higher producing cows were the most docile. Additional studies showed that personality traits of the dairy producer were correlated to milk production and introverted gentle stockmen had higher producing herds. Recently, however, researchers have shown that the flight distance, i.e., how close a human can approach before a stationary cow moves away, is not correlated to high milk production (Purcell et al., 1988). However, it should be obvious that the greater the level of fear in the dairy cow the more frustration she can cause to the dairy worker because of her constant stepping, kicking and flinching in the milking parlor. Such cows are more likely to be the object of rough handling, particularly by hired labour. A novel approach at reducing the level of fear in milking cows has been successfully demonstrated by Hemsworth and workers (1989) who took advantage of the "sensitive" period which cows themselves undergo following parturition. They found smearing foetal fluids on the hands of the experimenter and extending them towards the cow for her to smell during the first hour following parturition calmed the cow's behaviour during milking for up to 20 weeks of lactation. These findings need additional testing, but it is reasonable to assume that any steps which can be taken to reduce the fear of humans in dairy cattle would be a step toward improving animal welfare in terms of reducing stress and avoiding rough handling by frustrated workers.
intensive dairy production influence the level of fear in the dairy herd
and indirectly impact on the animal's welfare? Intensive dairy production
will decrease animal welfare if it means an increase in animal numbers
per farm to a point that the number of cattle exceed the number that the
operation can successfully tame, adequately inspect or positively interact
with at the individual level. Intensive operations which hire workers who
are untrained in appropriate stockmanship skills and left unsupervised
should expect to have cattle that are nervous and fearful in the presence
of humans. Canadian researchers, de Passille and coworkers (1993) have
found that calves will generalize unpleasant experiences and associate
the negative experience with the place of origin and not necessarily discriminate
between "good" and "bad" people. Therefore, one abusive part-time worker
in the parlor could negatively effect how cows respond to others who handle
them at milking. Such a person can exist in a less intensive system. It
could even be an overworked irritable owner who is trying to operate a
less intensive system. Size of the operation is not the best indicator
of good or poor animal welfare. The pleasure and satisfaction the worker
or owner feels while in the presence of the animals and the willingness
to be around the animals during free time are probably more reliable predictors
of the proper actions and attitudes which lead to improved animal welfare.
Separation of cow and calf
Under natural conditions a cow would bond to her calf immediately after parturition. She would provide maternal care and allow the calf to suckle up until weaning age, which occurs naturally at about 250 days of age. In all our livestock systems we impose a weaning age which deviates substantially from the naturally occurring weaning age. Does the separation of the dairy cow and calf within 24 hours after birth impinge upon their well being? From a nutritional and health viewpoint the calf and cow are adequately cared for following separation in any well managed system, regardless of whether the system is intensive or otherwise. Do the cow and calf feel bad or suffer stress due to the separation? Though the calf is innately programmed to bond and become dependent upon a "mother" the calf is not born equipped with a template that informs it what a "mother" is to look like . The role of mother is easily redirected within 24 hours of birth onto any appropriate surrogate "mother" (or human) which provides nourishment. Calves separated shortly after birth display much less behavioural signs of anxiety such as vocalization, defecation, searching for their mother, loss of appetite, etc. than beef calves weaned at 205 days of age. It appears that the separation during this early critical period is more easily "accepted" by the newborn calf than it is in older calves who are imprinted and dependent upon their mothers. Separation anxiety in the cow follows a similar pattern and is less stressful if done immediately following parturition. In addition, some of the maternal anxiety felt by the cow is diminished by milking. Two separate studies suggest that the cow and calf should be allowed some period of time together (not greater than 24 hours) for some important physiological benefits (Albright, 1983).
Colostrum (even when hand fed) is more readily absorbed by a newborn calf in the presence of the cow and uptake is facilitated by the stimulation received through grooming and licking. The incidence of retained foetal membranes is reduced in cows where sucking by the calf was allowed.
a common practice among dairy producers to train calves to drink from a
bucket instead of letting them suck the milk through an artificial teat.
From the producers perspective the practice saves time and money because
the calves can consume the milk more quickly, and buckets without artificial
teats are cheaper and easier to clean. The practice may not be as advantageous
to the calf. One of the main reasons for rearing calves in isolation has
been to prevent calves from cross-sucking on each other. The need to suckle
appears to be highly motivated. Anne Marie de Passille and others (1991)
have discovered that calves which were allowed to suck on artificial teats
after drinking milk had higher levels of insulin and cholecystokin in (CCK)
in their blood. Both of these hormones are important to the calf; insulin
aids in the digestion and utilization of milk and CCK is responsible for
signalling satiety or "fullness". It is not just the act of suckling which
is important, but also the duration. Calves fed through artificial teats
with smaller orifices (thereby requiring more time to suck the same amount
of milk) show less cross-sucking. Although the behaviour of sucking on
non-nutritive objects appears maladaptive to the human observer, and has
some negative consequences, the calf instinctively "knows" that the sucking
behaviour satisfies a physiological need. Suckling on a cow satisfies both
the nutrient requirements and the sucking response. Drinking milk from
a bucket only meets the nutrient requirements. If calves are taught to
drink milk from a bucket it may be an improvement in welfare to attach
an artificial teat to the side of the pen for the calf to use after feeding.
it was reported that heifers reared in social and visual isolation from
their herd mates produced significantly more milk than herd mates raised
in groups or in stalls with visual and limited physical contact. Not only
was the health of calves reared in out door hutches improved over traditional
housing, but apparently some positive long term benefits were realized
by rearing calves in social and visual isolation. Eighteen years later
and with four more studies complete the results remained the same; heifers
reared in social and visual isolation produced more milk when they became
cows than did heifers reared under the same conditions, but in visual contact
with each other. Creel and Albright postulated that the mild stress of
neonatal isolation primed the system early to enable the adult cow to better
maintain homeostasis when stressed. An extensive study involving 5 Universities
and 323 calves reported that even though milk yields for cows reared as
calves in isolation averaged more than control cows during a lactation
(+70 kg of fat-corrected milk, +65 kg of mature equivalent milk), the differences
were not statistically significant (Arave et al., 1992). A second experiment
using identical twins did not show an increase in milk yield for the twins
reared in social and visual isolation. What is to be made of the contradictory
results? The method of raising calves in individual hutches is likely the
best method for housing and rearing young calves due to the reduced risks
of enzootic pneumonia and calf scours. Adding a further barrier to prevent
visual contact between calves is still open for discussion, but we are
at least certain the procedure does not have any detrimental effects on
future milk yield.
of bull calves destined for sale to veal producers deserves some mention.
Before sale, all calves should be fed colostrum and failure to feed colostrum
to male calves violates the recommended codes of practice for the care
and handling of dairy cattle. Selling or transporting bull calves before
they have the physical strength and nourishment to withstand the ordeal
shows an outright lack of compassion. Attempts should be made to arrange
for sale of bull calves to a single buyer. Transfer of calves from one
sale facility to another should be avoided. Large intensive dairy operation
are at an advantage in securing direct sales to buyers since they have
a steady and reliable source of bull calves for sale.
Free stall housing
cow's perspective, two major differences exist between living in a tie
stall versus a free stall housing system. Cows in a free stall have 1)
greater freedom for movement and exercise, and 2) more opportunity for
social interactions. Intensive dairy operations routinely adopt the free
stall system not necessarily to improve animal welfare, but primarily to
reduce labour. Indirectly, the cow benefits from the freedom of movement
and the exercise. However, social interactions are not necessarily always
an advantage and they often come with a cost to the animal, particularly
if the animal is a lower ranking individual. Low ranking cows are more
often displaced at the feed bunk or while in a free stall and are more
likely to receive threats and head butts from dominant cows. Cows, like
any species, have a distinct social hierarchy and low ranking animals can
suffer at-the-hands of the upper class. However, it is not a hard and fast
rule that low ranking animals will suffer in the presence of dominant individuals.
Dominance is defined as having priority of access to resources. It is an
excellent definition, because without competition for some resource (i.e.
food, space, mates) we would never see the dominance relationship expressed.
As resources become more limiting the competition becomes more intense.
This principle becomes very significant in a free stall system. As long
as feed, water, and space for eating, standing, walking, and resting is
readily available then competition for these resources will be kept to
a minimum. Intensive dairy units which utilize free stall housing have
greater potential to improve animal welfare over tie stall systems provided
the resources are not limited, comfortable stalls are available and footing
is secure. Free stall systems are not an improvement in animal welfare
if cow numbers exceed stalls by 15%. Free stalls are not an improvement
if cubicles are too small for cows to lie down comfortably. Furthermore,
welfare is not improved by a free stall housing system if cows are forced
to stand in unsheltered conditions or lie in damp, drafty and unclean cubicles.
There is no blanket guarantee that animal welfare is improved in intensive
systems which utilize free stall housing, but the possibility to improve
the welfare above that provided in the tie stall barn certainly exists.
Potential welfare advantages
Several features of intensive production are not only compatible with good animal welfare, but they are an improvement compared to previous standards. Intensive operations are much more likely to call upon experts in the fields of financing, engineering, nutrition, reproduction and herd medicine. All of these experts, directly or indirectly, can make significant contributions towards the improvement of the animal's welfare. Intensive operations are more likely to make timely renovations in building design aimed at improving cow comfort. Intensive operations tend to incorporate and utilize state of the art milking machines which are continually being designed to reduce the incidence of intramammary infections. Even futuristic robotic milking has the potential to improve animal welfare by enabling the cow to voluntarily be milked more often and at the most appropriate time.
numbers of animals usually means a producer is better able to group animals
according to their requirements. Improved nutrition, less competition and
more attention to specific production needs are often the spin offs of
grouping animals according to age and lactational status.
Potential welfare disadvantages
As a rule, intensive production means larger herd sizes. This can have a down side for the individual animal because the available time by the owner or worker for inspection and attention is less per cow. In larger herd sizes, animals have less sentimental value and become "easier" to dispose of when they develop a problem or drop below a set production level. As the operation becomes more efficient the average life span of cows in the herd drops, because cows are more likely to be culled and replaced by higher producing animals. In a nut shell, the intensive operation becomes less forgiving of an animal's shortcomings.
are certain repercussions associated with as an entire industry moving
towards intensive production. The emphasis and selection on production
output per animal unit pushes the animal to its metabolic limit. Super
cows become the norm and not the exception. Super cows not only produce
more milk, but they require advanced care and nutrition. The cow herself
becomes less forgiving of subtle mistakes in management, environment or
nutrition. Factors which would have been trivial to the ancestors of the
modern cow now become exaggerated. A modern dairy cow is like an Indy 500
race car; they both represent the ultimate in what they are designed to
do. They both require top notch professionals to care and manage them and
both suffer major setbacks when human errors occur.
Welfare issues facing the dairy industry
Originally, tail docking dairy cattle was widely adopted in New Zealand where the prevalence of Leptospirosis was high. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease which means humans as well as animals can contract the disease. Cattle were routinely tail docked to reduce the likelihood of parlor workers from coming in contact with the leptospira organisms which were shed in the urine and present on urine soaked tails. However, epidemiological studies on the prevalence of leptospirosis in dairy workers have never shown tail docking cows reduces the incidence in dairy workers. Precautions which were found to be effective included the wearing of protective clothing and foot wear, covering abrasions and reducing the prevalence of leptospirosis in the herd through vaccination programs. There is also a belief that somatic cell counts are reduced in tail docked cows, but this has not been supported with published scientific results.
In Canada, it is not known how wide spread the practice of docking tails in dairy cattle is at this time, but the technique is gaining acceptance in the United States. The intent is to provide worker comfort, clean up the cow, remove the potential manure "slinger" or facilitate the ease of milking a cow between her hind legs. Such reasons seem trivial in light of current day welfare concerns focused upon the livestock industries and, in particular, the concerns being raised against routine procedures which inflict pain on our animals. We dehorn cattle to reduce injury and tail dock sheep and swine to reduce the incidence of fly strike and cannibalism, respectively. It can be argued that in these instances the long term welfare implications to the animal offset the short term pain associated with the procedure. The same cannot be said for tail docking a dairy cow. Whose welfare is being improved when we dock the tail of a cow? If the dairy parlor worker is the primary recipient who benefits from the ease of milking a tail docked cow, then the procedure can certainly be questioned on ethical grounds. The procedure would not appear to be "animal" welfare motivated.
The dairy industry in N. America has survived without tail docking for so long that it is hard to believe that such a procedure should now be necessary. The traditional means of keeping animals clean such as trimming the switch, providing adequate bedding, or frequently cleaning the barn are chores that responsible producers would be willing to accept. The irritation a producer might experience from a manure soaked tail being swished about the parlor should be motivation to clean the barn or trim the switch, but not dock the tails. Renovations in parlor design could include features which temporarily contain the tail during milking and would be far more welfare friendly and less invasive than renovating the cow!
industry cannot expect to improve its image in the eyes of the general
public by engaging in such a procedure. As Webster (1993) states, "An excellent
test of animal welfare is to discover whether the owner can display his
animals with pride to any fair-minded observer". Most European countries
such as the UK, Germany, Sweden and Norway prohibit tail docking in cattle
except in an emergency situation. It would be a grave error to assume this
procedure would not attract negative attention. Educating the public to
view this procedure as a necessary management tool, I think, would be a
losing cause because the practice cannot be justified in terms of animal
welfare. Like so many current welfare issues the presence or absence of
scientific data might not lessen the controversy surrounding this issue.
In fact, scientific evidence might very well cloud this issue.
1993 both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives enacted
legislation to amend the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921. The act, cited
as the "Downed Animal Protection Act", shall make it unlawful for any stockyard
owner, market agency, or dealer to buy, sell, give, receive, transfer,
market, or hold nonambulatory livestock unless the livestock has been humanely
euthanized. In many respects this legislation is aimed specifically at
the dairy industry which is estimated to account for 80 - 90% of the downed
animals in the market systems. This legislation should be viewed as a stern
warning for all livestock industries in North America to correct welfare
issues before they reach the attention of legislative bodies. It is a fallacy
to think changes will be forced on livestock industries only when the entire
public demands changes. The Downed Animal Protection Act is an example
of changes which were brought about by a handful of people who were persuasive
and just in the eyes of the lawmakers. It is imperative that producers
pay particular attention to dry cow management and that they monitor body
conditions and avoid metabolic disorders such as milk fever, ketosis, and
fatty liver syndrome which can indirectly lead to displaced abomasums.
It is equally detrimental to have cows too thin or too fat, since both
conditions have the potential of creating a downed animal. Special measures
should be taken to prevent cows from coming in contact with slippery surfaces
during all phases of the their life. And above all, efforts should be made
to arrange for weak and potential downer cattle to be shipped humanely
and directly to a slaughter facility.
There is no dispute that the potential injury to the cattle and to ourselves favours the removal of horns. The controversy arises on how and when to dehorn. The most "welfare friendly" solution would be to use polled sires. It would eliminate the questions of how and when to dehorn and it would cause the least amount of pain to the animal. Unfortunately, polled sires are not readily available. Furthermore, dairy bulls carrying the polled gene lag behind horned sires in production traits. The dairy producers and AI centres appear to be forever stuck holding the door for each other, waiting for the other to enter the polled gene market place first. Producers will not use a polled sire until it can match the production traits of the horned bull and the AI centres will not put selection pressure or emphasis on polled lines unless there is a demand for polled bulls. Unless there is a concerted effort by both the dairy producers and the sire companies the situation will not correct itself.
meantime, I believe that when the cattle are dehorned carries a more significant
impact on the welfare of the animal than which removal technique is employed.
Cattle dehorned at the feedlot on arrival suffer a setback detected up
to 106 days post dehorning when compared to cattle arriving at the feedlot
without horns. However, dairy calves dehorned at 8 weeks of age did not
differ in gain from their horned counterparts by 12 weeks of age. It is
difficult to measure if pain is less on younger animals, but the time to
heal is certainly quicker. All evidence indicates that the procedures are
less stressful to the animal the younger it is at the time of application.
I would encourage dehorning within the first week following birth. Producers
should adopt a dehorning technique which they are comfortable and successful
at performing and avoid any technique which requires repeat application
or additional attention. The use of local anesthetics when dehorning calves
has previously been recommended as an acceptable means of improving animal
welfare (Fox, 1983).
it is clear that intensive dairy production is an improvement in animal
welfare if good management principles are employed and if attitudes surrounding
welfare issues are progressive and open-minded. It should also be clear
that there is much potential for poor welfare if management is poor. Because
animal welfare is a continuum, it is difficult to draw a definite line
between acceptable and unacceptable levels. Regardless, we should continue
to utilize the current information and take steps towards improving animal
welfare and move away from practices which compromise an animal's well
Albright, J. L. (1983) J. Dairy Sci. 66:2208-22 20.
Arave, C. W. , J. L. Albright, D. V. Armstrong, W. W. Foster, and L. L. Larson. (1992) J. Dairy Sci. 75:3408-3415.
Boissy, A. and M. F. Bouissou. (1988) Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 20:259-273.
Creel, S. R. and J. L. Albright. (1988) Appl. Anim. Be hav. Sci. 21:293-306.
de Passille, A. M. B. , R. J. Christopherson and J. Rushen. (1991) Sucking behaviour affects the post-prandial secretion of digestive hormones in the calf. Proceedings of International Congress Society for Veterinary Ethology. Edinburgh, Scotland. Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, Potter's Bar, Herts, Great Britain, pp. 130-131.
de Passille, A. M. B., J. Rushen and J. Ladewig. (1993) Can calves discriminate between humans based on previous experience? (Abstr .) 30th Annual Meetingof the Animal Behavior Society. University of California, Davis.
Duncan, I. J. H. and J. C. Petherick. (1989) Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 24-81.
Fox, M. W. (1983) J. Dairy Sci. 66:2221-2225.
Hemsworth, P. H., J.L. Barnett, A. J. Tilbrook, and C. Hansen. (1989) Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 22:313-326.
Purcell, D., C. W. Arave and J. L. Walters. (1988) Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 21:307-313.
Webster, A. J. F. (1993)
The Challenge of Animal Welfare. In: World Conference on Ani mal Production.
Edmonton, Alberta. pp. 513-524.
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