RAU researchers welcome UK dairy industry's new welfare strategy

10 July 2023

Animal welfare lecturers and researchers at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) have welcomed a new welfare strategy which has been adopted by the UK dairy industry – a move that they recommended in a paper written last year.

The new UK Dairy Cattle Welfare Strategy – produced by Ruminant Health & Welfare and supported by a host of industry leaders and organisations across the whole farm to fork supply chain - is designed to help the UK dairy sector demonstrate progress in six key areas of cow welfare over the next five years.

The six strategic goals for dairy cattle welfare are:  

  • Thriving cows – ensuring all dairy animals are bred and reared to live a long life,
  • Healthy feet – ensuring a proactive lameness management plan is in place on every UK dairy farm,
  • Comfortable cows – maximising cow comfort in housing and at pasture,
  • Appropriately nourished cows – ensuring a healthy body condition throughout the year, 
  • Healthy udders – continued improvements to udder health to reduce cases of mastitis, 
  • Positive welfare – moving towards ‘positive welfare’ by providing an environment that allows animals to exhibit normal behaviours such as curiosity or play.

Dr Jessica Stokes, Senior Lecturer in Farm Animal Welfare and Policy at the RAU, was the lead author with others, including the RAU’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic Planning and Resources) Professor David Main, of a paper entitled “A “Good Life” for Dairy Cattle: Developing and Piloting a Framework for Assessing Positive Welfare Opportunities Based on Scientific Evidence and Farmer Expertise” which was published in the journal MDPI last September.

Dr Stokes said: “It is fantastic to see positive welfare as part of Ruminant Health & Welfare’s six-point strategy. Moving towards environments where all farm animals, including dairy cattle, are provided with positive welfare opportunities is a public good. Farmer’s recommendations were integrated into a scientific framework and piloted on farm by vets.

“We worked collaboratively with farmers to evaluate positive welfare opportunities for dairy cattle and found dairy farmers supported positive welfare assessment as a means of recognition and reward for higher animal welfare, within existing farm assurance schemes, and to justify national and global marketing claims of higher animal welfare.”

An annual progress report will be published by Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board showcasing the strategy’s stakeholders – who include farmers, vets, and representatives from Government, supply chains and research organisations – outlining the individual actions that need to be taken to achieve the six welfare goals. 

Dr Stokes added: “Collaborating with farmers to co-create policy is crucial to showcase best practice, maximise engagement, relevance and uptake of animal welfare policy, to put farmers in the driving seat of applied research and innovation, and ensure continuous improvement and leadership in the quality of lives of farm animals. We look forward to following the strategy and how this facilitates “a good life” for all dairy cattle.”

The new dairy welfare strategy is part of a wider project by Ruminant Health & Welfare to facilitate and create welfare strategies for the whole UK ruminant sector – sheep and beef cattle ones will follow in due course.