Compassion in World Farming strongly disagrees with the recent assertion by the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) suggesting that dairy cows housed all year round with little or no access to grazing or kept in large herds can have satisfactory welfare.
In a recent letter to the Minister of State for Agriculture and Food (Jim Paice MP at Defra), FAWC take a wholly ambiguous position. Whilst they recognise that cows housed all year and/or in large groups are "under great stress", a view wholeheartedly shared by Compassion; they also state that cows housed all year round or kept in very large herds can have satisfactory welfare.
Compassion in World Farming has written to Jim Paice ( 134.31KB) making clear our strong disagreement with FAWC.
Compassion believes that humane farming systems need to provide for the expression of normal behaviour. For dairy cows, this includes the opportunity to graze which is not possible in year-round housing. The importance of animals being able to express normal behaviour is recognised both by the Five Freedoms and by the Animal Welfare Act 2006 which states that an animal's needs should be taken to include "its need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns".
Our letter to the Minister points out that cows kept in year-round housing are unable to perform one of their key natural behaviours - grazing on grass. Moreover, in a major Scientific Opinion the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has stressed that zero-grazed cows are at increased risk of lameness and other health problems.
Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of Compassion, said: "Cows are natural grazers. Their digestive system is adapted to obtain nutrients from high fibre foods such as grass and the leaves of shrubs and trees. Any system in which cows are kept should provide them with the opportunity to perform normal behaviours such as grazing and browsing."
Professor John Webster (a founder member of the Farm Animal Welfare Council) has told us, "My greatest concern is that these large indoor farms will deny the animals the freedom to choose what they want to do and where they want to be. The advantage of pasture-based systems is that the cow can choose the kind of environment she needs for comfort and security. In these large indoor units the opportunity for choice is profoundly restricted."