Animal Welfare in Dairy Farming

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Vom Hai gebissen

Intro: Most of my German readers might already know, that animal welfare in agriculture and zoos is one of the key topics in this blog. I wrote a couple of articles about poultry, hog farming and welfare in general inspired by Temple Grandin. But there is only one or even less than half an article about welfare in dairy cows in this blog, what is kinda sad, because my first visit on such a farm really made me think about livestock and the whole debates about it in the media. Maybe you should thank the farmer for taking his time to see his cows – because since then i´m an ag blogger.

In Germany, the average dairy farm has 46 animals, the farm I visited had about 100, so it wasn´t the smallest one over here. It was a hot summers day in august about three years ago, when i decided to visit the farm. For me it was great, i love summer and warm temperatures. But the cows didn´t, although they could. Actually, that was kind of a big suprise for me, because this wasn´t an organic farm. Blue skies, green grass and some black and white holstein cows relaxing in the sun. What seemed to be a perfect TV-spot at first, was real, well kinda 😉 But – as I said before – the cows stayed in their shed and enjoyed the cooling air, floating through the open doors at both ends. About 30 degrees in the sun were just to hot. Good for me, because having a look at cows outside would have been much more difficult…

Let´s have a look at this welfare-thing. I recognised a cow, walking to a brush, a bit smaller like those you know from you local car wash. It started working and the cow seemed to enjoy it, moving her head in different directions to get a massage, it even works for the whole body. Great, isn´t it? There was also a calf laying around, it was just a couple of days old and sooooo cute. I wanted to cuddle it, but honestly – it wasn´t fun at all, because all the other cows were also very curious and licked the little one all the time, so it felt like touching a frog. “Dairymoos” is a young dairy farmer from California, i found him via Twitter and on his youtube-channel there is a short video about a calf and the others similar reaction to it:

75% of the German dairy cows can already walk around in a free-range shed instead of being kept in one place they can never leave – and this modern form is still on the rise. The last 25% of the ladies and their farmers are waiting for the permision to start. This fact leads to another welfare-point: the cows have several boxes. In addition to the normal ones, there are some with a softer ground – called comfort slat mats – a nice way to relax.
So why is animal welfare or “cow comfort” such a big deal in dairy? Well, modern cows like Holstein-Frisian produce up to 10.000 litres of milk per lactation. That is a lot! And it is a good indicator for the farmer to find out, how happy the cows are. They wouldn´t do it, if there were any problems like bad fodder or water quality or bad air conditions. Even a bad treatment – in other words: animal handling – can refer to a lower milk yield. 

Above i told you, that 30 degrees are way too hot for dairy cows. Here is why: Producing milk is hard work for their bodies and while doing this a lot heat is coming up. To stay cool on a hot day, they spent their time in the shed, enjoying the floating air. Sometimes, it´s getting real hot with over 30 degrees, maybe you remember those times over here in Germany. What is great for people on holidays, is a serious problem for dairy cows. Basically the ladies are fine with temperatures between -15 to +15 oder 20 degrees. The best conditions for high milk yields and happy cows are between 4 and 16 degrees. On warmer days, the cows are eating less, which is bad for milk production. To make sure the cows are doing well even on crazy hot days, there are showers installed – for example. Another way of cooling down is spraying water. Again, “Dairymoos” has to help me out with a little video:

When it comes to animals in agriculture, one of the biggest concerns is the herd size on the farm. For many people it is hard to understand, how you can take care for about – lets take the farm i visited – 100 cows. Every single cow has individual needs, when it comes to fodder. That´s why they are wearing a collar with a little electronic device, which contains all informations. A laser recognizes the chip and the cow gets her individual ration – not more or less, because both could lead to serious health problems and even death (acidosis from eating to much).

This was a quick overview about animal welfare on a dairy farm and an experiment at the same time – my first english article! Any suggestions or questions? Keep them coming! If you like it, give me a hint. There will be more articles in the future then 😉

If you are interested in farming and what is going on there, concerning animal welfare you should really take look at Dairy Moos´blog.


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Wissenschafts- und Agrarblogger seit 2009 – eher zufällig, denn als „Stadtkind“ habe ich zur Landwirtschaft keine direkten Berührungspunkte. Erste Artikel über Temple Grandin und ihre Forschungen zum Thema Tierwohl wurden im Blog dann allerdings meiner überwiegend ebenfalls nicht landwirtschaftlichen Leserschaft derart positiv aufgenommen, dass der Entschluss zu einer stärkeren Beschäftigung mit der Landwirtschaft gefallen war. Auch spätere Besuche bei Wiesenhof und darauf folgende Artikel konnten die Stimmung nicht trüben. Seit 2015 schreibe ich auch gelegentlich für das DLG-Blog, teile meine Erfahrung in der Kommunikation als Referent und trage nebenbei fleißig weitere Literatur zum Thema Tierwohl zusammen. Auf Twitter bin ich unter unterwegs.

16 Kommentare

  1. Cow-micromanagement

    Every single cow has individual needs, when it comes to fodder. That´s why they are wearing a collar with a little electronic device, which contains all informations.

    Without Temple Grandin Germany could be leading.

    Dr. W

  2. @Webbaer und andere

    Für jene, die lieber Deutsch lesen. Ja, es gibt auch Das hier war erstmal ein Versuch’ um zu sehen, wie es ankommt. Wird auch nicht der letzte gewesen sein. Wenn ich auf English dann etwas routinierter bin, denke ich auch über ein englisch-sprachiges Blog nach.

  3. Are cows happy without a human?
    Animal welfare doesn’t seem to require any human intervention. It needs the right temperature, the right fodder, water, the right milking machine operating at the rigth time.
    An automatic system which knows all the cows individually and acts accordingly should be enough.

  4. @Martin Holzherr
    Good point – at first sight. But the machines are just collecting data. The farmer is responsible for the fodder, the right mixture and if the milking machine tells him about too many cells, he’ll has to find the cow and call the vet. Cleaning the shed is another thing. No doubt, machines help alot – nut without a farmer it still wouldn’t work at all.

    PS: I’m sorry, your comment was in the spam folder. Just found it.

  5. @Martin Holzherr

    That’s a good point. Studies show that stress level of cows is less, if they milked by automatic milk machines instead of humans.

  6. Milch

    Hallo Rainer,

    vielen Dank für das Kompliment. Ich erinnere mich noch an eine Reportage “Die Milch-Lüge”. Die stellte sich als so schlecht heraus, dass sie nicht oder nur einmal ganz spät ausgestrahlt wurde. Ich denke, das beschreibt es ganz gut 😉

  7. off topic

    Hallo, etwas off topic. Aber da es hier bei mir gerade eine sehr emotionale Diskussion zur Neuansiedlung eines Hähnchenschlachthofes gibt eine Frage. Hast du einen Literaturtip bzgl. des aktuellen Standes der Hähnchenmast in Deutschland?

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