Postdoctoral thesis
Animal Welfare in Organic Dairy Farming

Publication Details
Ivemeyer, S.
Universität Kassel
Kassel - Witzenhausen
Publication year:


Organic dairy production is a growing
sector in many countries in Europe. Within organic farming it is an explicit
objective to fulfil animal welfare standards for ethical reasons. Organic
principles aim at sustaining the health of soils, plants, animals, and people -
including special care of farm animal welfare and the keeping of animals in
systems providing ‘natural conditions’ while conserving environmental resources.
The aim of the presented habilitation was to investigate
and reflect relevant animal welfare issues in organic dairy farming in order to
identify challenges and promising improvement strategies. Mainly the European
organic sector is considered with an emphasis on organic dairy farming in
Germany and Switzerland. In the following the eight included papers are listed
and a short summary is given for each paper.

Paper 1: Major organic dairy farm types in Germany and
their farm, herd, and management characteristics

The aim of this study was
to identify typical major farm types (MFTs) of German organic dairy farms and
to describe their farm, herd, and management characteristics. Identified MFTs
were (A) medium-scale herds with low- to medium milk yield, (B) small-scale
herds with low milk yield, (C) large-scale herds with high milk yield, and (D)
medium-scale herds in Southern Germany with medium milk yield. Small-scale
farms with low milk yield provided the highest and large-scale farms with high
milk yield the lowest pasture access, while the amount of concentrate fed
showed an inverse association. No significant differences were found regarding
herd health indicators. The results showed that different management strategies
can lead to similar results regarding herd health and longevity. However,
achieving high milk yields in organic dairy herds also requires high input, not
only in terms of feed with a high-energy density like maize or concentrates but
also in terms of preventive health measures. Thus, for research and
recommendations variation between different dairy farm types should be taken
into account.
Paper 2: Differences between dairy cows descending from
artificial insemination bulls vs. dairy cows descending from natural service
bulls on organic farms in Switzerland

This study investigated
differences between phenotypes of daughters of artificial insemination
(AI)-bulls and daughters of natural service (NS)-bulls on organic dairy farms
in Switzerland. Only farms using both AI and NS with sires of the same dairy
breed as the inseminated cows were included in the study. Dairy cows descending
from NS-bulls showed lower SCS and tended to have shorter calving intervals and
a trend to lower daily milk yield compared to cows descending from AI-bulls. No
effects of service method on other health parameters were found. Around 70% of
NS-bulls and 26% of AI-bulls were bred in the same regions (<100 km
distance) as their daughters. No NS-bull, but 35% of AI-bulls came from abroad.
1.8% of AI-bulls and 30.8% of NS-bulls had been bred on an organic farm. One
explanation for lower SCS and a tendency to shorter calving interval in cows
descending from NS-bulls might lie in their better adaptation to local
conditions. Further research is necessary on differences between NS- and
AI-bulls and also on genotype x environment-interactions between organic and
conventional environments.
Paper 3: Changes in herd health, fertility and production
under roughage based feeding conditions with reduced concentrate input in Swiss
organic dairy herds

The aim of minimising concentrate
feeding may lead to animal welfare problems especially regarding nutrient
supply, body condition and fertility. This intervention study investigated the
effect of farm specific concentrate amounts and concentrate feeding reduction
over two years on herd health and production in 69 organic dairy herds
considering further feeding management factors and herd characteristics. The
average concentrate amount fed before project start was 363 kg/cow/year. The
maximum amount of concentrate was 10% of the yearly dry matter intake,
according to the Swiss organic ‘Bio Suisse’ standards. The intervention was
performed as an advising process regarding feeding and herd health during
quarterly farm visits and regular contacts with the farmers after receiving new
milk recording data. A significant reduction in concentrate feeding, to an
average concentrate amount of 276 kg/cow and year, was achieved within the
project period. Milk yield and treatment (TM) incidences were higher and
calving intervals (CIs) were longer if more concentrates were fed in general,
but these parameters were not related to a reduction in concentrate feeding
within the project years. The total amount and the reduction in concentrate
feeding within the project showed no association with SCS. Regarding feeding
management, maize as a component of the roughage ration was significantly
related to a higher milk yield. Under Swiss roughage based dairy production
conditions, a reduction in concentrate use was achieved after a two year
intervention study, compared to the year before project start, without
significant losses in milk yield, health and fertility status.
Paper 4: Potential effects of automatic milking systems
on grazing in organic dairy farming

The aim of this online survey
of organic dairy farmers with AMS, mainly in Germany, was to obtain insights
into the compatibility between AMS and pasture use in organic dairy farming
practice. Furthermore, it was surveyed to which degree AMS and concentrate use
are linked. Most of the responding 42 farmers had implemented an AMS with free
cow traffic (74%). About half of the farms (54%) used pasture after the
introduction of AMS, but 29% of the farms that had used grazing before have
ceased pasturing after introduction of the AMS. A decline of average pasture
area from 0.22 to 0.18 ha per cow occurred and pasture systems shifted from
rotational grazing (46% before AMS introduction, 13% with AMS) to continuous
grazing (29% before AMS introduction, 70% with AMS). All farms fed concentrates
in the AMS (on average about 3 kg), 59% stated that the amount had increased
since the introduction of the AMS, only 2% that it had decreased. Altogether
this shows that the introduction of an AMS can lead to increased concentrate
feeding and a decrease or even cessation of grazing, depending on the
individual farm situation. Such an effect would not be desirable in terms of
animal welfare (Bühlen et al., 2014).
Paper 5: Short-term ante-calving handling of dairy
heifers in relation to heifers’ behaviour and udder health after parturition

study investigated (1) heifers’ behavioural responses to handling over the
course of four standardized handling sessions and (2) whether this handling
just before parturition led to reduced heifers’ avoidance distances and reduced
agitation behaviour in the milking parlour as well as improved udder health.
The standardized handling was based on Tellington TTouch® and always
started with touching the heifers’ hind quarters (HQ), proceeding over dorsum,
neck, flank and belly (rest of the body) to hind legs and udder (HLU) as the
target region. In the four handling sessions the relative duration of aversive
responses to touching at HQ decreased after the first handling. Also the
proportion of time in which touching of HLU was tolerated increased in the
second and third handling session compared to the first session. However, no
significant differences between handled and control heifers were found
regarding their behaviour after parturition and their udder health, with large
variance in responses during milking. Possibly the handling was not intensive
or long-lasting enough and agitation during the first milkings is not only
related to fear of humans.
Paper 6: Impact of human-animal relationship, management
and stress level on udder health in German and Danish organic dairy herds

The impact of human-animal
relationship, housing and management on udder health was investigated in a
cross-sectional study on 30 German and Danish organic dairy herds. Concerning
human-animal relationship the following significant or marginally significant
factors were found: agreement on patience when moving the cows, perception of
necessary contact to cows as pleasant, milkers’ positive interactions (%),
release behavior reactions,  contact time
per cow during routine work, routine milker change, active heifer habituation
to milking, barn controls beyond routine work. Lower faecal cortisol
metabolites were related to higher mastitis curing rate. Concerning housing,
management and herd characteristics, the following risk factors were found for
at least one of the five udder health indicators: straw yards versus cubicles,
cows not fixed during feeding, automatic milking system, separation of diseased
cows, no breeding selection for docility, higher lactation number, and more Staphylococcus aureus quarters. The
results confirm earlier findings that human-animal relationship is associated
with udder health and therefore should be considered in mastitis control
programs. Attention should be paid to a reduction of the cows’ stress level in
order to improve mastitis curing rates.
Paper 7: Impact of animal health and
welfare planning on medicine use, herd health and production in European
organic dairy farms

and maintaining high herd health and welfare status and low veterinary medicine
inputs are important aims in organic livestock farming. Therefore, an on-farm
intervention study was conducted on 128 organic dairy farms in seven European
countries aiming at minimising medicine use through animal health and welfare
planning (AHWP). The total number of treatments, the number of udder treatments
and the number of metabolic treatments were all significantly reduced during
the one year study period, whilst the number of treatments of lame cows
increased. With the exception of SCS, which improved significantly, the other
health indicators remained stable. Milk yield and average lactation number also
remained unchanged. Choice of different focus areas in AHWP had no significant
effects on the corresponding treatment and health variables except for low
fat-protein ratio (< 1.1) indicating a risk of rumen acidosis; for the
latter situation on farms with an AHWP focus on metabolic issues improved, but
this was not the case across all farms. Overall, the implementation of AHWP
reduced total treatment incidence and improved udder health across all farms
regardless of the focus areas in the AHWP. Hence, AHWP can be regarded a
feasible approach to minimising medicine use without impairment of production
and herd health under several organic dairy farming conditions in Europe.
Paper 8: Farmers taking responsibility for herd health
development - stable schools in research and advisory activities as a tool for
dairy health and welfare planning in Europe

paper reviews the results from intervention studies that used a modified
‘farmer field school’ (stable school) approach for animal health and welfare
planning, providing an overview of ongoing activities and their implementation
into advisory situations in selected European countries. Studies on stable
schools as an intervention tool showed improvements regarding the specific
project aim on the majority of the participating farms. Farmers and
facilitators were convinced of the approach and benefits for dairy herds.
Farmers’ attitude and attention towards their herds and their ownership of the
process appear to be crucial success factors for herd health and welfare
situations. In some European countries, this method has been implemented in
advisory practice, and in other regions, there are relevant and promising
opportunities.In conclusion, although organic
regulations generally provide certain conditions for a good animal welfare
status and the possibility to carry out natural behaviour (e.g. by providing
outdoor access or avoiding zoo-technical interactions), there are a lot of
challenges and possibilities of improvement. Often the organic certification alone
does not automatically guarantee higher levels of animal welfare and
sustainability. Several
management, housing and human-animal interaction related factors have been
found to be connected to animal welfare (in terms of behaviour, physiology and
health) in organic dairy farms. Farmers’ attitudes and attention towards their
herds and their participation in animal health and welfare planning processes
appear to be success factors for herds’ welfare situations. Nevertheless,
suitable and promising preventive measures should be chosen farm-specifically.


Last updated on 2019-08-07 at 13:24