Welfare of dairy cattle in summer and winter – a comparison of organic and conventional herds in a farm network in Germany

Dairy cow welfare in 19 organic and 15 conventional farms in distinct soil climate regions of Germany was examined using the Welfare Quality® assessment protocol for dairy cattle (WQ®). In comparison to other studies, this one is outstanding in that (a) the WQ® protocol was carried out twice per farm (in the winter period 2014/2015 and in the following summer period) and that (b) some parameters were measured directly on pasture, if pasture access was provided on the farm during the summer period. At the level of WQ® principles, significantly lower scores (Mann-Whitney U test, P<0.05) were found in the summer period for ‘Good Feeding’ (more very lean cows and insufficient water provision). Higher scores for ‘Good Housing’ (reduced duration of lying down movements and more cleanliness of cows) were recorded in summer compared to the winter period. Furthermore, significantly higher mean scores were found in organic herds at the level of the WQ® principles in ‘Good Housing’ (in summer period), ‘Good Health’ and ‘Appropriate Behaviour’ (in both periods). For the underlying criteria and measures, the organic farms had, on average, higher scores for resting comfort (lying behaviour, not parameters of cleanliness) especially in summer, fewer lame animals (in both periods) and fewer animals with ocular discharge (especially in the summer period). Also, the better scores for ‘Absence of pain induced by management procedures’ which are related to disbudding of calves and the respective pain management on the farms influenced > <0.05) were found in the summer period for ‘Good Feeding’ (more very lean cows and insufficient water provision). Higher scores for ‘Good Housing’ (reduced duration of lying down movements and more cleanliness of cows) were recorded in summer compared to the winter period. Furthermore, significantly higher mean scores were found in organic herds at the level of the WQ® principles in ‘Good Housing’ (in summer period), ‘Good Health’ and ‘Appropriate Behaviour’ (in both periods). For the underlying criteria and measures, the organic farms had, on average, higher scores for resting comfort (lying behaviour, not parameters of cleanliness) especially in summer, fewer lame animals (in both periods) and fewer animals with ocular discharge (especially in the summer period). Also, the better scores for ‘Absence of pain induced by management procedures’ which are related to disbudding of calves and the respective pain management on the farms influencedthis result. Additionally, less agonistic behaviour (number of head butts) and a lower avoidance distance (in terms of more ‘cows that can be touched’) were observed in organic farms in both periods. The ranges of all values and scores of WQ® assessment were broad in both periods and farming systems. Generally, the results show that the impact of management factors individual to farms on animal welfare is high.

Autori: 
Franziska Schulz, Kathrin Wagner, Jan Brinkmann, Solveig March, Peter Hinterstoißer, Maximilian Schüler, Sylvia Warnecke, and Hans Marten Paulsen

Produzioni:

Anno: 
2020