Welfare and legislation

The term animal welfare refers to the state of physical and mental health and well-being of the animal.  

Welfare has been defined as the state of the animal with respect to its ability to cope with its environment. 

In 1997, the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) reported on cattle welfare guidelines described as the Five Freedoms. These form a logical basis for assessing animal welfare within a husbandry system. In 2011, FAWC introduced 'a life worth living' as a useful concept to move beyond the Five Freedoms. Determining whether an animal has a life worth living requires that both positive and negative experiences are counted. An animal's quality of life can be 'a life not worth living', 'a life worth living' or a 'good life'. The 'good life' indicates an even higher standard than a 'life worth living' and the requirement of a 'good life' goes beyond those for the lower categories.

Welfare legislation

The Animal Welfare Act of 2006 places a responsibility on all owners and keepers of animals to ensure that the welfare needs of animals are met. The Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations in England, Scotland and Wales detail the standards under which farm animals must be kept.

The minimum requirements for dairy cattle welfare are laid out in the 'Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Cattle' published by Defra and the Scottish and Welsh governments.

There is not always a direct relationship between an animal's welfare and the quality of the housing.  

Good stockmanship can insulate the cow from poor housing facilities, while poor stockmanship may lead to poor welfare in spite of good housing conditions.

The development of techniques such as body condition, mobility and cleanliness scoring, welfare assessment schemes have moved towards directly assessing the animals. Further methods for assessing welfare directly from animal behaviour and their physical appearance are being developed.

Welfare assessment need not only be carried out as part of an official visit by an assessment officer. Many farmers already undertake their own welfare assessments by taking time to observe their cows. For example, mobility scoring is something that should be done on a regular basis. If animals identified as lame are treated, this can make a major contribution to reduction of lameness levels and improvement of welfare. 

Other legal requirements

It is important that planning permission, where required, is applied for at an early stage when developing a housing design and that the design satisfies the Town and Country Planning requirements.

When considering new or adapting existing dairy cattle housing, more specific guidance is provided in the British Standard for Agricultural Buildings and Structures, BS 5502-40:2005.

The Dairy Products (Hygiene) Regulations 1996 also provide guidance on the design and management of housing systems and stress the importance of cleanliness, health and comfort of the cows.

When building a new facility, it is important that the system complies with the Control of Pollution (Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil) Regulations and the Code of Good Agricultural Practice for farmers, growers and land managers (the 'CoGAP') which provides details on the protection of water, soil and air.