Stakeholders in the Irish dairy industry have differing views on the main welfare concerns for dairy cows as herds expand in the post-quota era, the European Federation of Animal Science conference was told in Belfast earlier this week.

Presenting a paper on the effects of herd expansion on dairy cow welfare, Joanna Marchewka discussed results from a survey that had been carried out on farmers, vets and dairy advisors in Ireland.

It showed that 30% of vets and 44% of advisors said that social stress on cows was their main welfare concern with expanding herds, whereas for farmers poor body condition score was the main issue with 23% selecting this option.

Marchewka highlighted lameness as a potential issue for welfare, however only 2% of advisors, 13% of farmers and 28% of vets said that this was their main concern with expanding herds. All stakeholder groups agreed that digital dermatitis and white line disease was the main cause of lameness in Irish dairy herds.

The most popular investment was in milking parlours with 93.5% of farmers stating that had spent money on parlours

Of the farmers surveyed, 79% said that they had expanded their business over the last three years. The survey showed that 85.4% of respondents had invested in their business. The most popular investment was in milking parlours with 93.5% of farmers stating that had spent money on parlours.

Marchewka said that this was important for welfare also as investments in parlours to speed up milking time reduces the social stress on cows waiting in collecting yards. Fewer farmers had invested in roadways with 27% selecting this option. Some 37% had spent money on housing.

Speakers from the floor suggested that by asking questions privately in the survey, differing views among stakeholders were more likely than by asking questions in groups. “If groups made up of the three stakeholders groups sat down and discussed welfare issues among themselves, a consensus of the main welfare issues would be easier to reach,” one speaker suggested.

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