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Health and welfare in Danish dairy cattle in the transition to organic production: problems, priorities and perspectives

By M. Vaarst, L. Alban, L. Mogensen, S. Milan, Thamsborg, E. S. Kristensen

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During the past few years, organic dairy farming has grown dramatically in Denmark. Consequently, an increasing number of people are encountering this method of production for the first time. Amongst these, many veterinarians have suddenly had to deal with organic herds in their home district, and, meeting examples of poor animal welfare, they have recently started to express some concerns. Against this background, a so-called "Synthesis of Knowledge" project was initiated to examine the health and welfare of dairy cattle and the use of medication in the transition to organic production. The aim of the project was to investigate associated problems from the point of view of the dairy herd. Based on qualitative research interviews with vets and agricultural advisors, as well as focus group interviews with farmers who had recently converted from conventional to organic farming, an expert panel attempted to identify problem areas and possible solutions. The problems related to (a) the adjustment to new and unknown practices, (b) poor management in general, and (c) inappropriate legislation for organic farming. One problem area was the rearing of dairy calves, particularly with regard to the establishment of post partum relationships between cow and calf, group housing, and the grazing of young animals. A "natural life" was identified as being fundamental to organic animal husbandry. In terms of animal welfare, this concept can be understood as a way of living in which the calf is allowed to express its natural behaviour and satisfy its natural needs. Essentially, the conditions needed for good calf welfare require the compatibility and interplay of elements from "nature" (the natural life; including opportunities to satisfy natural needs) and "culture" (farmer management skills; exercise of care). These elements should be balanced to ensure animal welfare in organic herds.

Date 2001
Publication Title Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics
Volume 14
Issue 4
Pages 367-390
ISBN/ISSN 1187-7863
DOI 10.1023/A:1013060304868
Language English
Author Address Department for Animal Health and Welfare, Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences, Research Centre Foulum, P.O.Box 50, DK-8830 Tjele, Denmark.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal health and hygiene
  2. Animal husbandry
  3. Animal rights
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Calves
  6. Cattle
  7. Dairy animals
  8. Denmark
  9. Developed countries
  10. Ecological agriculture
  11. Europe
  12. Mammals
  13. OECD countries
  14. organic culture
  15. organic farming
  16. peer-reviewed
  17. Ruminants
  18. Scandinavia
  1. peer-reviewed