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The effect of management system on mortality and other welfare indicators in Pennsylvania dairy herds

By C. D. Dechow, E. A. Smith, R. C. Goodling

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The objective of this study was to identify farm characteristics that were associated with cow (Bos taurus) welfare outcomes, including mortality rate, culling by 60 days of lactation, survival to >=6 years of age and >=5th parity (aged cows), somatic cell score, milk yield, and milk composition. Data were collected on housing systems, feeding systems, pasture strategies, bedding type, labour management practices and other farm characteristics in face-to-face interviews with 314 Pennsylvania dairy herd owners where performance records were available. Five herd management systems were identified in the sample: free-stalls with complete confinement (n=37); free-stalls that allowed outdoor access (n=76); tie-stalls with complete confinement (n=52); tie-stalls with outdoor access and that fed a total mixed ration (n=72); and tie-stalls with outdoor access and that did not feed a total mixed ration (n=77). Welfare outcomes were evaluated with multivariate linear regression models and marginal means were estimated for herd management system. Tie-stalls that allowed outdoor access and that did not feed total mixed rations had the lowest mortality rate (2.0%), culling in the first 60 days of lactation (5.1%), and the highest proportion of aged cows (13.8%). Those herds also had high lifetime-to-date milk yield, a low proportion of fat-protein inversions, and low somatic cell scores. Free-stalls with complete confinement had significantly higher levels of mortality (8.3%), culling in the first 60 days of lactation (9.7%), and fewer aged cows (6.4%). It was concluded that shifts toward more efficient herd management systems have not benefited cow health and welfare. This suggests that cow welfare has been compromised to facilitate the economic survival of dairy farms.

Date 2011
Publication Title Animal Welfare
Volume 20
Issue 2
Pages 145-158
ISBN/ISSN 0962-7286
Language English
Author Address Department of Dairy and Animal Science, 324 Henning Building, University Park, PA 16802, USA.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal genetics
  2. Animal housing
  3. Animal husbandry
  4. Animal nutrition
  5. Animal physiology
  6. Animal rights
  7. Animal welfare
  8. APEC countries
  9. Cattle
  10. Culling
  11. Dairy animals
  12. Developed countries
  13. Diets
  14. Evaluation
  15. Feeding
  16. Feeding programs
  17. Feeds
  18. Foraging
  19. Grasslands and rangelands
  20. Grazing
  21. Health
  22. Husbandry
  23. Indicators
  24. interviews
  25. Lactation
  26. Livestock
  27. Mammals
  28. Mathematics and statistics
  29. Milk and dairy products
  30. models
  31. mortality
  32. North America
  33. nutrition programs
  34. OECD countries
  35. pastures
  36. peer-reviewed
  37. Pennsylvania
  38. performance recording
  39. performance testing
  40. performance traits
  41. survival
  42. United States of America
  1. peer-reviewed