Dairy cows

There are approximately 1.8 million dairy cows in the UK. Many of the common health problems experienced by the modern dairy cow are due to the physical demands of milk production.

Historically breeding for high milk yields has led to cows becoming bigger and more productive, but in many cases, housing and management systems haven’t grown to accommodate them.

This has contributed to the problem of disease and poor-standard housing conditions.

Our top three animal welfare concerns

1. Breeding

The modern dairy cow has been bred to produce increasingly large amounts of milk. Unfortunately, this productivity has often come at the cost of their welfare. Two common problems experienced by modern dairy cattle are lameness and mastitis.

Lameness is a painful condition and can cause suffering. It can be caused by poor nutrition, breeding or housing.

Mastitis is an inflammation of the udder. It can cause pain and discomfort and some cows become severely ill.

What the RSPCA standards say...

The RSPCA’s standards are intended to reduce the prevalence of lameness and mastitis in dairy herds, in cases where these illnesses do occur, we ensure they are treated quickly and effectively. For example, the standards include specific requirements around the use of foot bathing facilities and the keeping of detailed veterinary health plans. The RSPCA is also part of a number of groups and research projects looking at these and other issues.

2. Comfort

Because of their large size, the quality of the environment in which dairy cows are kept can have a particularly large impact on their welfare.

Allowing dairy cows to lay down comfortably for long periods of time is very important to their health and wellbeing.

What the RSPCA standards say…

Under RSPCA Assured, cows must be provided with enough space and comfortable bedding to allow them to lie down and get up without injuring themselves. They must also have environmental enrichment (e.g. cow brushes) they can use to groom and scratch themselves.

3. Calving

Dairy cows are at an increased risk of a range of health problems in the weeks before and after giving birth. This is because of changes to their immune system and energy. Good management is essential to ensure good welfare during this time.

What the RSPCA standards say...

There are numerous detailed standards covering this period of time dedicated to ensuring the welfare of both calf and mother. For example, there is a particular focus on minimising stress, maximising cow comfort and good nutrition.

Where to buy

RSPCA Assured milk is available in M&S.

Find out more about dairy cattle standards

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