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Can environmental variables replace some animal-based parameters in welfare assessment of dairy cows?

By C. Mulleder, J. Troxler, G. Laaha, S. Waiblinger

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Animal-related parameters best fulfil the requirements of a valid welfare assessment, but often they are less feasible than other parameters. Therefore, this paper examines whether animal-based parameters are connected with each other and with environmental factors in order to find out if some can be discarded without loss of information. Eighty Austrian dairy herds (21-55 Simmental cows) housed in loose-housing cubicles were visited. Housing, management and the human-animal relationship were assessed. Animal-based parameters such as lameness, skin lesions and social behaviour were recorded. For the statistical analysis, Spearman correlation coefficients and regression trees with additional cross-validations for the assessment of the predictive performance of models were calculated. The animal-based parameters could be explained by environmental variables only around 2/3 (goodness of fit). The calculated regression trees explained 62% of the percentage of lame animals, 58% of leg injuries on the carpal joints and 69% of the agonistic interactions. Leg injuries on the tarsal joints could be explained to quite a high degree (77%). Cross-validated regression trees, however, which are more significant for prediction on farms in excess of this study, accounted for 31% of the total variance of lameness, 44% of the leg injuries on the tarsal joints, 33% on the carpal joints and 25% of the agonistic interactions. Only a few correlations between animal-related parameters were found: lameness was correlated with leg injuries on the tarsal joints and on the carpal joints. Leg injuries were correlated with each other. Due to the lack of interrelations between animal-related parameters and the moderate prediction by environmental factors, we do not suggest replacing the investigated animal-related parameters for on-farm welfare assessment in dairy cattle.

Date 2007
Publication Title Animal Welfare
Volume 16
Issue 2
Pages 153-156
ISBN/ISSN 0962-7286
Language English
Author Address Institute of Animal Husbandry and Animal Welfare, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Veterinarplatz 1, 1210 Vienna, Austria.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal diseases
  3. Animal genetics
  4. Animal health and hygiene
  5. Animal housing
  6. Animal rights
  7. Animal welfare
  8. Austria
  9. Cattle
  10. Dairy animals
  11. Developed countries
  12. Dog Breeds
  13. Environment
  14. Europe
  15. Farms
  16. Health
  17. Interactions
  18. Joints
  19. Lameness
  20. Lesions
  21. Mammals
  22. Mathematics and statistics
  23. models
  24. OECD countries
  25. Parasites
  26. peer-reviewed
  27. Plants
  28. skin
  29. skin lesions
  30. Social behavior
  31. statistical analysis
  32. trauma
  33. trees
  1. peer-reviewed