Changes in the dairy industry affecting dairy cattle health and welfare.

The dairy industry in the developed world has undergone profound changes over recent decades. In this paper, we present an overview of some of the most important recent changes in the dairy industry that affect health and welfare of dairy cows, as well as the science associated with these changes. Additionally, knowledge gaps are identified where research is needed to guide the dairy industry through changes that are occurring now or that we expect will occur in the future. The number of farms has decreased considerably, whereas herd size has increased. As a result, an increasing number of dairy farms depend on hired (nonfamily) labor. Regular professional communication and establishment of farm-specific protocols are essential to minimize human errors and ensure consistency of practices. Average milk production per cow has increased, partly because of improvements in nutrition and management but also because of genetic selection for milk production. Adoption of new technologies (e.g., automated calf feeders, cow activity monitors, and automated milking systems) is accelerating. However, utilization of the data and action lists that these systems generate for health and welfare of livestock is still largely unrealized, and more training of dairy farmers, their employees, and their advisors is necessary. Concurrently, to remain competitive and to preserve their social license to operate, farmers are increasingly required to adopt increased standards for food safety and biosecurity, become less reliant on the use of antimicrobials and hormones, and provide assurances regarding animal welfare. Partly because of increasing herd size but also in response to animal welfare regulations in some countries, the proportion of dairy herds housed in tiestalls has decreased considerably. Although in some countries access to pasture is regulated, in countries that traditionally practiced seasonal grazing, fewer farmers let their dairy cows graze in the summer. The proportion of organic dairy farms has increased globally and, given the pressure to decrease the use of antimicrobials and hormones, conventional farms may be able to learn from well-managed organic farms. The possibilities of using milk for disease diagnostics and monitoring are considerable, and dairy herd improvement associations will continue to expand the number of tests offered to diagnose diseases and pregnancy. Genetic and genomic selection for increased resistance to disease offers substantial potential but requires collection of additional phenotypic data. There is every expectation that changes in the dairy industry will be further accentuated and additional novel technologies and different management practices will be adopted in the future.


Barkema, H., Kastelic, J., Lam, T., Luby, C., Roy, J., LeBlanc, S., Keefe, G., Kelton, D., Invited review: Changes in the dairy industry affecting dairy cattle health and welfare, Journal of Dairy Science, Volume: 98 Issue: 11 Pages: 7426-7445 Published: NOV 2015.