SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Cattle (Dairy)

SPCA supports farming practices that allow animals access to the outdoors provided they are able to maintain comfort through unrestricted access to shade and shelter that protects them from the elements such as extreme temperatures, solar radiation, and inclement weather including wet muddy ground conditions, rain, wind, hail, and snow.

SPCA is concerned with the welfare impacts of winter grazing practices. All animals kept outdoors must have access to well-drained areas to prevent the animals from being kept on wet muddy ground conditions. Wet muddy ground conditions should be avoided as they have negative impacts to hoof and udder health, as well as resting, lying, and feeding behaviours. SPCA is opposed to the current practices of intensive wintering grazing that result in poor welfare conditions.

SPCA is concerned with the wellbeing of all animals and believe all animals must have the opportunity to display the full repertoire of natural behaviours. The current practice of intensive winter grazing, where cattle are kept in wet muddy conditions, does not allow for cattle to display these behaviours, and their physical, health, and behavioural needs are not being met in these adverse conditions.

SPCA advocates that all cattle should have access to pasture and grazing in the grass-growing season, and opposes the permanent indoor housing of dairy cows.

SPCA supports farming systems which allow cattle a choice of indoor and outdoor environments with sufficient shelter and shade and appropriate stocking densities. Our organisation advocates that all cattle should have access to pasture and grazing in the grass-growing season, not kept in wet, muddy conditions, and opposes the permanent indoor housing of farmed animals. Cattle should be able to carry out a range of species-specific behaviours, such as grazing. Tethering of dairy cows should not take place, unless it is for a brief period due to the administration of medical treatment or for a veterinary examination, and must never be left unsupervised.

SPCA advocates that dairy cattle are kept in stable long-term groups throughout their lives.

Our organisation advocates keeping dairy cattle in stable long-term social groups. Cattle are social animals who should be kept in stable groups throughout their lives, whenever possible. Cattle should be able to carry out a range of species-specific behaviours, such as the formation and maintenance of preferred partner bonds. It is acknowledged that animals may need to be removed from the social groups for husbandry, health, or welfare reasons.

SPCA is concerned about the levels of lameness in cattle and supports the welfare of cattle to remain paramount at all times.

Stock people should be aware of the signs of ill-health, including lameness, in cattle and ensure that, where necessary, appropriate treatment is given in a timely manner. To prevent and manage lameness, a lameness management plan should be in place that includes multi-factorial welfare components, such as raceway conditions, distances walked by cows and rest periods, housing, veterinary care, nutrition, foot confirmation, hoof care, genetic selection and management practices, as well as biosecurity and disease management.

SPCA is concerned about the production demands placed on dairy cattle.

Our organisation advocates that anticipated levels of milk production should be balanced against, and be consistent with, the good health and welfare of the cows. Genetic selection and management practices to increase production levels must not be such that this is detrimental to the cows’ welfare or leaves them with metabolic deficiencies that result in poor health outcomes or do not enable them to perform their natural behaviours.

SPCA opposes the routine killing of young calves in the dairy industry.

SPCA supports schemes which demonstrate the economic viability and sustainability of producing high welfare veal and beef from calves who would usually be slaughtered as excess stock. SPCA advocates for the use of dual-purpose cattle or balanced dairy breeds and the appropriate care of male calves so that they are humanely reared to attain a market value in the beef supply chain. If pure-bred dairy cattle are farmed, SPCA supports the use of sexed semen to reduce the number of “unwanted” male dairy calves being born. Our organisation advocates that the use of dual-purpose cattle and/or sexed semen can significantly reduce the number of unwanted male calves being born.

If calves are born who are not going to be reared for meat and are going to be killed as “excess stock”, then SPCA supports the humane killing on-farm soon after birth by personnel that are trained and competent in appropriate, humane killing techniques. This prevents the subjection of calves to the stress and potential harm of loading, transportation, unloading, lairage, and killing at a slaughterhouse.

SPCA advocates that all calves are reared with their mothers on pasture and in stable, long-term social groups.

A socially restricted early environment is not an ideal form of animal husbandry and early separation of calves from their dams has long-term effects on behaviour, stress reactivity and the ability to cope with different challenges in various animal species, including dairy calves.

(see Bobby / Young Calves from the Dairy Industry for more details)

SPCA supports the farming of naturally polled cattle, achieved either through selective breeding or genetic technology, as this would eliminate the need to disbud or dehorn cattle. Where there is a need to prevent horn growth in non-polled animals, SPCA advocates for animals to be disbudded rather than dehorned.

SPCA advocates that disbudding should be classified as a “controlled” surgical procedure, meaning that it can be performed by the animal’s owner or employee of the owner as long as they have veterinary approval to perform that procedure on that species of animal. If disbudding does take place it must be carried out by a skilled and competent operator with adequate and appropriate medical care provided prior to, during and after the procedure and include anaesthesia and analgesia.

Our organisation advocates that dehorning should only be performed by a veterinarian or a veterinary student under the direct supervision of a veterinarian. If dehorning does take place it must be carried out with appropriate medical care provided prior to, during and after the procedure and include anaesthesia and analgesia.

While horned cattle are still being farmed, our organisation supports appropriate management to minimise the risk of harm to the animals.

Our organisation opposes the routine tipping of horns. SPCA supports the practice of horn tipping, only if there is concern that the horns may grow into the animal’s head. Our organisation advocates that horn tipping should only be performed by a veterinarian or a veterinary student under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.

(see Disbudding and Dehorning of Cattle and Goats for more details)

SPCA advocates supernumerary teat removal should only be performed by a veterinarian or a veterinary student under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.

Removal of a supernumerary teat can be associated with significant pain and medical complications including, but not limited to bleeding, infection and wound closure problems. Adequate and appropriate anaesthesia and analgesia must be used at the time of the procedure and post-operatively.

SPCA opposes the prophylactic or cosmetic docking of cattle tails. SPCA does not agree with tail docking as a management procedure for dairy cattle and advocates that improved husbandry practices can alleviate perceived problems with tails.

It is now an offence against the ‘Animal Welfare (Care and Procedures) Regulations 2018’ to dock the tails of cattle in New Zealand.

When tail docking is performed for therapeutic purposes (termed amputation), the procedure must be carried out by a veterinarian or a veterinary student under the direct supervision of a veterinarian, and adequate and appropriate medical care must be provided prior to, during and after the operation and include anaesthesia and analgesia.

(see Tail Docking for more details)

SPCA advocates that the removal of the claws of cattle must only be performed by a veterinarian or a veterinary student under the direct supervision of a veterinarian and only for therapeutic reasons.

Adequate and appropriate medical care must be provided prior to, during and after the operation and include anaesthesia and analgesia. Claw amputation should be carefully considered in terms of the welfare impact on the cow.

SPCA supports the use of preventative management practices to reduce the likelihood of down cows.

A down cow is one that is sitting or lying on the ground and unable to get up. Cows can become recumbent for many reasons, and at any stage of their lactation cycle, but this most commonly occurs around calving time. Preventative measures, such as appropriate bull selection, good feeding and careful mineral supplementation and good springer management can avoid most down cows.

SPCA supports the rapid diagnosis and early treatment of down cows, particularly appropriate use of floatation therapy for down cows.

SPCA advocates for the use of floatation therapy as the preferable method to treat down cows, whilst the correct use of slings is another alternative. SPCA opposes the use of lifting cows with hip lifters as their use is detrimental to the cow’s welfare, and other preferable alternatives are available (e.g. correct use of slings). Cows must never be moved using hip lifters.

Cows with a poor prognosis for recovery must be humanely euthanised immediately.

SPCA opposes the practice of stimulating milk let-down by inserting water or air into a cow’s vagina.

SPCA opposes the long-distance transport and live export of dairy cattle.

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