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14 September 2015

Animal welfare in dairy cows: selection of health - and production - related indicators

Animal welfare has been defined by the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) as the broad term used to describe how an individual is coping with the conditions in which it lives. An animal is in a good state of welfare if it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour and not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear and distress. For many years, genetic improvement programs of dairy herds were aimed at increasing milk production per individual. Later, efforts were focused on making those yield increases compatible with enhanced efficiency in food conversion. Throughout that period, the productive system was transformed to provide those animals of high genetic merit with the necessary environment to express their potential. However, this increase in production had negative effects related to intensification. The health equilibrium of animals with high genetic merit seems fragile. Accordingly, several authors have reported that these individuals have increased risks of suffering from mastitis, foot lesions, reproduction disorders and other events known as production-related diseases (e.g., hypomagnesemia, hypocalcemia) with respect to animals with low or medium genetic merit. All these factors affecting high-production cows cause a reduction in their productive life. The challenge in current milk production has taken a clear direction: establishing management programs associated with animals of high genetic merit so as to combine high production under the best possible animal welfare conditions. The study of useful variables for evaluating animal welfare in dairy herds has increased considerably in the last 15 years, and a number of indicators are now available which are well documented and being included in animal welfare protocols. However, the protocols that have been proposed and applied until now are costly and difficult to implement, and are starting to be evaluated. There is consensus in the reliability of measurements based directly on the animal as useful indicators, such as body condition, foot disorders, mastitis and other more general indicators, such as infertility and mortality rates, obtained from records of dairy farms that can be studied under our production conditions. The aim of the present review is to show producers and technicians the importance of early detection of some health problems of dairy cows closely associated with production and welfare as well as to report the current situation of animal welfare in milk production at the global level.
Author/Organization: Martínez G. M.; Suárez V. H.; Ghezzi M. D.
Year: 2015
Topics: animal health, cattle, dairy cattle, dairy production, welfare assessment, welfare on the farm