Lameness in dairy cattle

Putting a stop to pain and distress in farm animals

University of Bristol

Researchers: Becky Whay and Claire Weeks

Funder: Tubney Charitable Trust

Chronic animal welfare problems on UK farms are being tackled by The University of Bristol Veterinary School working with the Tubney Charitable Trust.

Lameness causes suffering in up to a third of UK dairy cattle at any one time and leads to a loss of animals through early culling, inefficient milk production, and frustration and stress for dairy farmers.

Feather pecking in laying hens also causes pain, is found in almost all flocks and costs the industry over £12million a year in mortality and lost production alone.

The project teams collated scientific information about the risk factors that influence these painful conditions and then developed and tested the best methods of helping farmers to implement this knowledge on farm.

The involvement of dairy companies (MilkLink, OMSCo, Long Clawson, Dairy Crest), laying hen producers (Noble Foods, Stonegate, Country Fresh Pullets) industry bodies and farm assurance schemes (RSPCA Freedom Food, Soil Association, Assured Dairy Farms, BEIC) was essential for success.

The projects developed new approaches that are now showing real results on farms. Different farmers adopted different strategies which meant that the team’s expertise in multi-level statistics is now enabling them to establish which interventions were most useful.

The team also work with economists to ensure the economic gains associated with welfare improvement outweigh any additional costs of adopting the interventions, thereby helping to secure food supplies for the future.

It is not enough for us, as scientists, to know how to manage cattle lameness; we have to find approaches that allow farmers to do it for themselves.
Dr Becky Whay

Scientists have been working on feather-pecking for decades, but only by working alongside farmers can we apply this knowledge to develop practical solutions.
Dr Claire Weeks