Communicating farm animal welfare science: Wisconsin dairy producers' attitudes toward and interest in cow welfare

Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Exhibit Hall AB (Kansas City Convention Center)
Christina Skasa , University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire, Eau Claire, WI
Stephanie Turner , University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, Eau Claire, WI
Amy L Stanton , University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Abstract Text:

Farm animal welfare research is gaining momentum in the US, but few focused assessments of US producer opinions and knowledge about welfare-friendly management practices exist in the literature. By soliciting producer opinions, gaps in producer knowledge and possible strategies to disseminate research-based best practices can be identified. This study of Wisconsin (WI) dairy producers targeted the following: producers’ opinions about farm animal welfare and controversial on-farm management practices; their familiarity with farm animal welfare initiatives; and their interest in learning about dairy cattle welfare, including how they currently obtain that information. Surveys were mailed to a computer-generated random sample (n=1,000) of WI dairy producers with a response rate of 48.1%. Question topics included impact of management practices on cattle welfare, cattle’s ability to experience affective states, familiarity with farm animal welfare initiatives, and accessibility of information about cattle welfare.  Associations between responses and farm size, age, education, and housing type were evaluated with chi-squares test in SAS. Results indicated that farm type, farm size, producer age, and producer education level impacted survey responses. Notably, tie stall farms, smaller farms (1–50 head), and producers who identified as university graduates were more likely to disagree with the statement that tail docking is necessary to maintain cow cleanliness (P < 0.01). Free stall farms were more likely to agree that milk production is the best indicator of a cow’s welfare (P = 0.05), as were producers aged 65 and older (P=0.02). Overall, farms that had both free stall and tie stall housing were most familiar with animal welfare initiatives, including Extension-sponsored conferences (P = 0.03), a university-sponsored welfare-friendly cattle housing guide (P=0.01), and the National Dairy FARM Program (P<0.01). Study results could be used to target welfare education, such as benchmarking information on critical on-farm welfare issues, based on producers’ current knowledge and preferred mode of information delivery. 

Keywords: welfare, dairy, opinions