Dairy Cow Welfare: Bridging the Gap
Most consumers are unaware of dairy production practices and generally rely on information from print, television, and social media to obtain information. Animal welfare is one consumer concern that often creates a gap between consumers and dairy producers. Differing values and ethics increase the complexity of animal welfare as an ethical issue. Current dairy welfare research includes objective physiological, behavioral, preference, and motivational research. Objective research observes measureable variables to determine whether the welfare of a dairy cow is compromised. These measures may not be useful indicators of psychology or natural behaviors, but are helpful in other types of welfare research. Cow comfort research examines cow behavior with different facilities and management practices. This research demonstrates how cow comfort is beneficial for welfare and production. Preference research includes observing dairy cow choices between alternative situations. This indicates cow inclinations and helps redefine natural behaviors. Motivational research is similar to preference research where an obstacle is used to get to one of the situations. An obstacle could include a physical barrier or a longer walk to get to the destination. This demonstrates how motivated a cow is to choose one situation over another. All of these current research areas are allowing scientists to understand more about animal behavior and psychology. Knowledge of dairy cow emotions is still lacking and difficult to measure. Animal welfare models have been created to understand the broader definition of welfare. These models go beyond the traditional measures of welfare and include less measureable traits such as emotions and an animal’s need for a natural environment. Before applying these models to improve the definition of animal welfare, research must be conducted to understand more about emotion, psychology, physiology and natural behavior. Some studies on both lab and livestock species have been conducted to measure emotions. Translating these studies into dairy research may be beneficial in the future. Publicizing information about current and future research is important for public education. Education, along with the implementation of welfare models, may help bridge the gap between consumers and dairy producers. Improving animal welfare will improve dairy cow well-being, public perception, and overall dairy production.
welfare, dairy, ethics