Scientific Opinion on the assessment of dairy cow welfare in small-scale farming systems
This opinion reviews information on small-scale dairy cow farming systems in Europe, including the impact of production diseases on welfare of cows, and proposes a methodology for welfare assessment in those systems. To address specific expectations of consumers that food be produced locally or regionally or maintaining acceptable animal welfare conditions, in addition to herd size, criteria to define farms as “non-conventional” were proposed. Several sources were investigated for identifying criteria for the description and categorisation of small-scale farms, including dairy umbrella organisations and literature. In addition to herd size (up to 75 cows), proposed criteria related to small-scale farming comprise the workforce source, input level, indigenous breed use and production type certification. To cover the large diversity of farming systems across Europe, it was proposed that farms meeting at least two of these criteria be considered non-conventional. To adapt the welfare assessment to small-scale farms, the same risk factors and welfare consequences, as measured by corresponding animal-based measures identified in previous opinions for intensive farming systems were considered to be also relevant for small-scale systems. In addition, factors related to resources provided on pasture (e.g. shelter), management of pasture (e.g. mixing herds) and management of the cows (e.g. use of local breeds) were considered more likely to be present in small-scale systems. An on-farm survey was run to collect data for welfare assessment from 124 European farms. The distribution of risk factors and animal-based measures varied across the full range in study farms and showed similar patterns in farms with different grazing systems (from no time to full year on pasture). The animal-based measures identified for intensive farming are well suited for application in small-scale dairy farms. Production disease impact on the individual animal’s welfare state does not depend on herd size or farming system.