Ruminant Health & Welfare (RH&W) has collaborated with dairy farmers, vets and industry representatives to create the new UK dairy cattle welfare strategy for 2023-2028.

The strategy has been designed to help the industry show progress in animal welfare by 2028.

It has outlined six goals for the industry to achieve by 2028:

  • ‘Thriving cows’ – Ensuring all dairy animals are bred, reared and cared for to thrive in all systems;
  • ‘Healthy feet’ – Ensuring a proactive lameness management plan is in place on every UK dairy farm;
  • ‘Comfortable cows’ – Maximising cow comfort in housing and at pasture;
  • ‘Appropriately nourished cows’ – Ensuring a health body condition throughout the year;
  • ‘Healthy udders’ – Continued improvement to udder health to reduce cases of mastitis;
  • ‘Positive welfare’ – Moving towards ‘positive welfare’ by providing an environment that allows animals to exhibit normal behaviours like curiosity or play.

RH&W’s vice chair, Gwyn Jones, said the strategy is an update of a previous strategy aimed at improving welfare of the national dairy herd, but importantly has support across the four nations of the UK.

“The industry’s shared vision is for the UK dairy industry to demonstrate evidence-based progress in six key areas of cattle welfare by 2028,” he said.

“Ability to provide evidence of progress will assist in maintaining UK status as a global leader in dairy cattle welfare, helping us compete with our international players.”

Cattle welfare

Jones said RH&W will support the dairy industry to make progress in the six key areas of the strategy and will deliver good welfare as well as good health to continue to set the bar high for industry standards.

“The UK must ensure standards deliver excellent welfare, providing a solid platform for UK supply chains to build on in the future,” Jones said.

“To enable the UK dairy industry to compete internationally, the sector will need to be able to provide evidence of progress on welfare.

“By doing so across the four nations, the UK will be positively differentiated from other countries.”

Senior animal health and welfare scientist at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), and an RH&W steering group member, Dr. Jenny Gibbons, said AHDB has committed to helping the industry publish an annual progress report.

The progress report, she said, will capture data evidencing the outcomes achieved by the strategy’s stakeholders, showing the actions taken annually to achieve the six welfare goals.

“These actions will be reported by groups of key industry stakeholders working together to gather evidence of industry achievements and progress on the six goals,” she said.

In developing the strategy, the key stakeholder groups have been identified and split into the following categories: farm assurance; farmers; government; processing supply chains, including markets and hauliers; retail supply chains; research organisations; commercial organisations and veterinary surgeons.

Jones and Gibbons said that, now the strategy has been launched, the dairy industry must work together with the wider UK dairy supply chain to deliver the strategy.

“The wider industry from government officials and assurance scheme providers to dairy farmers and processors, must wherever possible work together to support progress on the strategy and support a centralised data collection to demonstrate industry progress,” Jones said.

The dairy welfare strategy is part of a wider body of work at RH&W to create welfare strategies for the whole of the UK ruminant sector – sheep and beef cattle ones will follow in due course, it said.