New standards for dairy cattle

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The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) is pleased to announce that the Minister of Agriculture has agreed to issue an amendment to the code of welfare for dairy cattle to address behavioural needs and off-paddock systems. The new standards will come into effect on 31 October 2019. The code amendment was developed by NAWAC and has been widely consulted.

NAWAC chairperson, Dr Gwyneth Verkerk, says that the amendment sets out new standards to ensure people working with dairy cattle meet their animals’ behavioural needs and adopt high levels of care when keeping dairy cattle in off-paddock facilities, including feed-pads, stand-off pads, wintering pads, and loose-housed and free-stall barns.

"Meeting behavioural needs is essential for dairy cattle welfare. It is very important that dairy cattle can lie down and rest in all management systems, including on pasture, on crops, and in off-paddock facilities. Dairy cattle like to lie down where it is comfortable and dry. They refuse to lie down on hard, wet or muddy ground and can become stressed as a result," Dr Verkerk says.

Keeping cows off paddock, especially in the long term, can present risks to animal welfare and the new standards address this. Dairy cattle kept in off-paddock facilities beyond 3 days now have to be provided with a well-drained lying area with a compressible soft surface or bedding and shelter. NAWAC also wants dairy cattle that are housed long-term to have access to outdoors, but affected farmers should be given time to comply.

"The minister has agreed to delayed provisions for outdoor access and his officials will be working with us to determine how to implement these" Dr Verkerk comments.

The aim of the amendment is to encourage all those responsible for the welfare of dairy cattle to adopt the highest standards of husbandry, care, and handling. It is expected that the amendment will be used as a guide for best practice.

NAWAC is an independent committee formed to give advice on animal welfare to the Minister of Agriculture.

Codes of welfare expand on the requirements in the Animal Welfare Act 1999, with minimum standards and recommended best practice designed to provide for animals’ overall physical, health, and behavioural needs.

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