Scientific Opinion on the use of animal-based measures to assess welfare of dairy cows
Animal-based measures, identified on the basis of scientific evidence, can be effectively used in the evaluation of the welfare of dairy cattle on farm in relation to laws, codes of practice, quality assurance schemes and management. Some of these measures are also appropriate for ante-mortem inspection and there are additional post-mortem animal-based measures which can be taken at the slaughterhouse. The validity and reliability of the measures should be known. There do not seem to be any animal welfare issues that can not be addressed using animal-based measures, but there may be practical constraints that make it difficult to use some animal-based measures or which make the use of non-animal-based measures preferable in some situations. Non-animal-based measures can be used when the association between them and the welfare outcome is strong and when they are more efficient than animal-based measures as a means to safeguard welfare. Some animal-based measures are early indicators and can be used to predict those animals at risk of poor welfare. Others can only be used for welfare assessment if collected over a long period, in which case they are best taken from historical records or recording systems. For an overall classification of welfare, a wide range of measures is needed. However, it is unnecessary to use all animal-based measures on every occasion. The choice of animal-based measures will depend upon the specific objectives of the assessment. The full list is comparable to a ‘toolbox’, from which the appropriate range of measures can be selected. The Welfare Quality® protocol provides information on the majority of the welfare outcomes of the main hazards identified in the EFSA Scientific Opinions but not those where time limitation prevents it. The extent to which short-term management can prevent the negative effects of hazards arising from genetic selection, and of most housing-related problems, is extremely limited. Herd monitoring and surveillance programmes should be implemented within the dairy industry using a range of appropriate animal-based measures in order to document welfare changes over time. There should be both initial and ongoing training of assessors to ensure valid and reliable welfare measurement.