An Investigation into Dairy Cow Welfare in Canada: A Cow and a Human Perspective

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Nash, Clemence Geraldine Renata
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University of Guelph

This thesis is an investigation into better understanding dairy cow welfare in Canada. A national cross-section study was undertaken to assess and provide producers feedback on dairy cattle housing, management and care in Canada. This included the assessment of hock and knee injuries and their risk factors for cows housed in tiestall systems. On average, 56% of cows within a herd were discovered to have hock injuries, and 43% of cows within a herd were discovered to have knee injuries. Factors associated with greater odds of hock and knee injuries included factors such as stall dimensions, stall surface, BCS, DIM and lying time. One year following this project, phone interviews were undertaken with these producers. Simultaneously, a separate survey was undertaken with dairy experts to assess the difficulty of making changes to improve cow welfare on farm. It was discovered that a majority (72%) of producers implemented some sort of change related to improving animal welfare following the intervention, however 17% of producers implemented changes that were not related to the weaknesses identified on their farm. The most common barriers identified to implementing changes to improve dairy cow welfare were lack of time and lack of fund. Dairy experts identified stall design changes as the most difficult to improve dairy cow welfare. Lastly, a Delphi survey was completed by dairy experts in Canada to better understand how the dairy industry defines and measures dairy cow welfare and seek consensus on a set of gold standard animal-based targets for realistically optimal dairy cow welfare. The study resulted in consensus within dairy stakeholders on how to define and measure dairy cow welfare. Most (72%) responded that they include a combination of natural living, health, affective state and production factors in their definition of dairy cow welfare, and all stated they would use animal-based measures, often in combination with other measures to assess dairy cow welfare. Lameness was the most frequently mentioned animal-based measure to assess dairy cow welfare. The survey participants were able to come to a consensus on 16 of 21 animal-based targets to describe a herd with realistically optimal welfare.

dairy cow, animal welfare, delphi, injuries, survey, adoption, Canada