Service Communautaire d'Information sur la Recherche et le Développement - CORDIS

Welfare assessment of dairy cows in automatic milking systems

The welfare of dairy cows depends on several factors related to social interaction between cows, the management and the environmental conditions. In addition to milking, cow traffic systems and feeding are important issues. While free cow traffic gives most freedom to the cows, long and irregular milking intervals among individual cows counteract the success. Forced traffic results often in unsatisfactory queuing in front of the milking unit and too few feeding visits. Controlled traffic, which allows access to some basic feeds between milking without passing the milking unit, results in better overall welfare conditions. The cows´ interest to go to the waiting area in front of the milking unit depends on the time since last feeding and the number of cows already in the waiting area. Low-ranked cows have to wait longer than the high-ranked when queuing, and generally choose time periods when the high ranked are less active. Studies on stress-related hormones do however not reveal that they suffer.

A concept for assessing animal welfare at herd level has been developed as a tool for the AM-herd, including information on the systems, systems application, animal behaviour and animal health status. The concept has been applied on 8 AM-herds during a year. Each herd received an annual report, which were discussed at the farm. The report included a short overview, a list of indicator values with reference to results from other farms, and a detailed documentation of raw data from the farm. Major herd differences were found for many indicators. The farmers in general appreciated the tool as a relevant decision support system.

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