Welfare initiative to improve lives of UK dairy cattle

A standardised system of direct observation to assess the welfare of dairy cows has been developed as part of a major farm animal welfare project led by the RSPCA, the Soil Association and the University of Bristol.

A new animal welfare tool is being launched to help improve the lives of dairy cows across the UK.

Organic dairy cows at Yeo Valley Holt Farm.Developed as part of AssureWel – a major farm animal welfare project led by the RSPCA, the Soil Association and the University of Bristol – a standardised "quick and simple" system of direct observation has been created to assess the welfare of dairy cows.

This new system looks at:

  • mobility,
  • body condition, and
  • cleanliness.

It can be used by farm assurance schemes as well as farmers, vets and other animal welfare professionals.

AssureWel's focus on dairy cattle marks the second year of the project. A successful first year saw a similar standardised system used with laying hens on Soil Association and RSPCA freedom food-approved farms, while the project plans to look at pigs in 2013 (year three), followed by broiler chickens, beef cattle and sheep in years four and five.

Anna Fraser, scientific officer within the farm animals department at the RSPCA, said of the new system: "We've had great feedback from farmers so far. The AssureWel assessment is a quick, simple way of measuring animal wellbeing."

Alison Bond, animal welfare project officer at the Soil Association, believes the standardisation of the assessment is its biggest strength. She said: "It is clear that industry harmonisation on animal welfare assessment is needed and we believe AssureWel provides the vehicle to help do that."

The project is also partnering with Red Tractor, something AssureWel calls "a major landmark." This collaboration assures that 95% of the milk in the UK will come from dairy cattle whose welfare has been checked under the new system. 

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