Article Summary: This blog fights the perceptions of some sectors of the public that believe that dairy farming and raising animals on farms is inhumane. As a farmer, you deeply care about your animals, the environment and the community. While these concerns can be based on misunderstandings or a lack of knowledge about modern dairy farming practices, we’ll examine why and what can be done to address them. It will also provide insights into steps you can take to ensure cow welfare and promote sustainable farming practices.

You may have heard concerns from the general public about the welfare of cows on dairy farms. It’s a commonly asked question online, among the plant-eating community, animal welfare groups, and young people worldwide, “Is dairy farming humane?”.

Well, there are perceptions that the industry may be inhumane or that cows are mistreated. These concerns can be based on misunderstandings or a lack of knowledge about modern dairy farming practices. This blog explores these concerns, looking at why they exist and what can be done to address them. It will also provide insights into steps you can take to ensure cow welfare and promote sustainable farming practices. As farmers, you care deeply about the welfare of your animals, and this blog will provide information and tips to help you maximise animal well-being on your farm.  

Strategies for improving cow comfort and welfare

Cows are the heart of any dairy farm, and their welfare should be a top priority. Here are some best practices for cow welfare:

  • Comfortable bedding: Cows spend a significant amount of time lying down, and it is essential that they have comfortable bedding to rest on. This helps prevent sores and injuries and ensures that cows are comfortable and healthy. According to research conducted by DairyNZ, providing cows with a comfortable, clean, and dry resting area can reduce lameness and improve cow welfare.

  • Space to roam: Cows are social animals that need room to move around and interact with each other. Providing ample space for cows to roam leads to happier cows and higher milk yields.

  • Clean living conditions: Clean living conditions are essential for cow health and welfare. Regularly cleaning and maintaining barns and milking parlours help prevent disease and infection and promote cow comfort.

Implementing feeding strategies to promote cow welfare

A balanced diet is critical to cow health and productivity. Here are some best practices for feeding cows:

  • Balanced diets: Cows need a balanced diet that includes a combination of forages, grains, and supplements to meet their nutritional needs. Providing high-quality feed ensures that cows are healthy and productive.

  • Fresh, clean water: Did you know that according to the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle, cows should always have access to clean water? Cows require 50-100 litres of water per day, depending on their stage of lactation and the ambient temperature. In NZ, it’s a minimum of 60 litres. Clean troughs limit bacterial infections and the spread of disease.

  • Milk production and cow health: The quality and quantity of milk cows produce are directly related to their diet. A well-balanced diet ensures that cows give high-quality milk while remaining healthy.

  • High-quality feed: Providing high-quality feed is essential to cow health and productivity. High-quality feed contains the necessary nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that cows need for optimal health.

Strategies for preventing and treating common cow health issues

Regular veterinary care and monitoring are essential to cow health and welfare. Here are some best practices for managing cow health:

  • Preventative care: Regular veterinary care can prevent and treat common cow health issues like mastitis and lameness. Routine monitoring of cow health helps catch health problems early and promotes quick and effective treatment.

  • Managing herd health: This is critical to cow welfare and includes regular vaccinations, parasite control, and hoof trimming. These practices help prevent illness and promote overall cow health. 

  • Antibiotics: The use of antibiotics in cow health care is a topic of concern for some consumers. However, it is important to note that antibiotics are strictly regulated and only used when necessary to treat illness or prevent the spread of disease. In addition, farmers must follow strict withdrawal times to ensure that milk and meat from treated cows are safe for consumption.

It should be noted that the use of antibiotics in Australian dairy farming is strictly regulated. The Australian dairy industry has an Antibiotic Residue Prevention Program outlining best practices for using antibiotics in dairy cows. In New Zealand, the law dictates that farmers must keep records of all treatments, including the name of the drug, the dose administered, and the treatment date.

The importance of proper handling and transportation for cow welfare

Proper handling and transportation of cows are essential to cow welfare. Here are some best practices for cow handling and transportation:

  • Gentle handling: Cows are sensitive animals and can become stressed easily. Encouraging slow movements and using quiet voices help minimise stress and anxiety in cows.

  • Minimising stress during transportation: Transportation can be stressful for cows, and it is essential to minimise stress during transport. 

Thankfully, there are codes and frameworks for protecting the welfare of dairy cows

In Australia, the National Dairy Industry Animal Welfare Strategy provides a framework for improving animal welfare in the dairy industry. The strategy outlines seven key focus areas: animal husbandry, facilities and infrastructure, and education and training. In New Zealand, the DairyNZ Healthy Hoof program provides farmers with resources and tools to help prevent and manage lameness in dairy cattle. The program includes a Lameness Scoring System, which allows farmers to assess the severity of lameness in their cows and develop appropriate treatment plans. 

In Australia, the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Cattle outlines the minimum standards for the care and management of dairy cattle. The code covers topics crucial to animal wellbeing, including housing, feeding, and veterinary care, and is based on scientific research and industry best practices. 

In New Zealand, the Code of Welfare for Dairy Cattle sets out minimum standards for the care and management of dairy cattle. The code covers how to manage feed and water, housing, and handling. Again, this framework is based on scientific research and industry best practices. 

How dairy farmers & the dairy industry can shift perceptions of inhumane dairy farming among some groups

Some groups and individuals believe that dairy farming is cruel, often based on misunderstandings about the industry and concerns about animal welfare. One common perception is that cows are mistreated or forced to live in poor conditions. Others may be concerned about using antibiotics or hormones in dairy farming.

One factor contributing to these perceptions is a lack of understanding of modern dairy farming practices. Many people may not know the steps you take to ensure cow welfare, such as providing comfortable living conditions, a balanced diet, and regular veterinary care. Misconceptions and misinformation about the industry can also contribute to negative perceptions of dairy farming.

To address these concerns, the dairy industry in Australia and New Zealand have taken several steps to improve transparency and communication with the public. For example, some dairy farms offer open days or tours to give members of the public a firsthand look at their operations. Industry organisations have also developed educational resources and campaigns to promote best practices in animal welfare and sustainable farming. Are you doing this too?

An increasing amount of forward-thinking dairy farms in the Southern Hemisphere are adopting new technologies and practices to improve cow welfare. More farmers are using precision feeding systems to ensure that cows receive a balanced diet, while others have implemented clever composting systems to manage manure and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you haven’t got this on your radar, we recommend you start thinking about it. Technology is the future, after all!

Agriculture professionals, such as specialised veterinarians, nutritionists, soil experts and educators, all help farms stay abreast of best practices in animal (and employee) wellbeing. After all, it 'takes a village'. By being accountable and allowing others in the community to share the load and their knowledge, your activities and ethos will become more transparent, showing you’re open to improving animal outcomes.

It's also important for farmers and the dairy industry to continue to address concerns about animal welfare and sustainability to maintain consumers' trust and support. Where you can, engage your community.

This way, the dairy industry can work towards a more sustainable and responsible future by prioritising cow welfare, communicating openly with the public, and being community-minded.   

Happy cows, happy life!

- The Dedicated Team of, 2023-04-06