Dairy cows under organic management in E.U. found to have high animal welfare status


Animal welfare has become increasingly more important to the general public and consumers are curious about what types of management offer the best animal welfare for their animal-based products like dairy. There have been few comprehensive studies that compare many welfare parameters at once, across the entire year, while also comparing organic to conventional. A recent study published in the Journal of Sustainable Organic Agricultural Systems did just that and found that organic dairy cows in the E.U. had a higher welfare status overall when measuring several parameters for the Welfare Quality principles. While scores for Good Feeding were not different between conventional and organic, organic scored significantly higher for Good Housing, Good Health, and Appropriate Behavior principles, which the authors largely attribute to the required standards for organic certification. Specifically, organic’s higher score for Good Housing was driven by the metric “Comfort around resting,” which was influenced by the amount of time on pasture and more litter provided in the bedding area. This study concurred with other studies that more time on pasture means more time comfortably resting as cows tend to prefer to rest in pasture versus in housing. And when cows rest indoors, they are more comfortable with more litter, which organic farms provided more of as per E.U. organic standards. Good Health was also higher for organic dairy cows, where organic had fewer instances of injury and disease, and less pain induced by management with “Absence of pain being” the driver of the significantly higher health score for organic management. And finally, organic management scored higher for the Appropriate Behavior principle which was driven by higher scores for “Expression of other behaviors” and “Good human-animal relationship.” Expression of other behaviors was again related to greater access to pasture. The differences between conventional and organic diary management that were revealed in this study suggest that some key practices to will improve overall animal welfare include more time on larger pastures, and more litter in the bedding area.

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