Animal welfare on NI farms
Animal welfare is extremely important on dairy farms in Northern Ireland. Dairy farmers must ensure cows maintain a good level of health, happiness and wellbeing so that they can function at their best. A good standard of animal welfare can have a number of positive outcomes including: an increased milk production, increased consumer confidence in dairy products, and the prevention of disease in both humans and animals.
Dairy farmers in Northern Ireland must comply with legislation covering animal health and welfare, and must be aware of current and emerging welfare issues. Dairy farmers must comply, for example, with The Welfare of Farmed Animals (NI) regulations 2000 which state the minimum standards for keeping farm animals.
In addition, a number of farmers’ organisations and milk producers in Northern Ireland have jointly agreed to adopt The Northern Ireland Animal Welfare and Quality Assurance Code of Practice. The Code of practice sets out the standards expected of farmers in Northern Ireland, and covers issues such as Stockmanship, Milking, Nutrition, Housing, Animal Health, Transport and the Five Freedoms.
Codes of practice are set to ensure that those responsible for the care of animals (stockmen) on dairy farms are experienced and trained in caring for animals. Some of the expectations for stockmen include that they must be fully familiar with the Codes of Recommendation for the welfare of cattle and with the Five Freedoms. They must also be able to recognise and react to various situations which may arise regarding the welfare of cattle and must keep full and accurate stock records.
Codes of practice set for milking cover issues such as dairy farmers providing acceptable levels of hygiene, effective, safe and hygienic milking machinery/facilities and the effective monitoring of milk tests. The codes of practice also state that cows must be regularly milked to avoid discomfort.
Codes of practice in relation to nutrition state that dairy farmers must ensure cattle receive a balanced diet and a fresh supply of water. Farmers must also be aware of the traceability of cattle’s food, and all foodstuffs must comply with current UK and EU legislation.
Minimal standards are set for dairy farmers on how dairy cows are housed. Codes of practice include expectations on issues such as the size, temperatures, insect and vermin control, and hygiene of accommodation for cattle.
Dairy farmers also have to follow codes of practice for the health of their dairy herds. The Codes state that all cattle should be kept in good health and checked regularly for any signs of illness or distress. Farmers should also be aware of the Five Point plan and follow set procedures for the prevention, detection and control of mastitis (a disease characterised by the inflammation of the udder).
Although the welfare of cattle after leaving the farm is not directly under the control of the farmer, dairy farmers must ensure that they entrust the care of their livestock only to persons they consider capable of safeguarding their welfare. It is expected that the dairy farmer ensures cattle are properly looked after when being transported at all times.
The Five Freedoms
The Five Freedoms are the key to good stockmanship on dairy farms. Under the Five Freedoms it is expected that dairy farmers ensure cattle are free from:
- Hunger and thirst (by providing fresh water and a nutritious diet)
- Discomfort (by providing good shelter and a comfortable resting area)
- Pain, injury and disease (by prevention and effective diagnosis and treatment)
- Fear and distress (by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering)
- Express normal behaviour (by giving them sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind)
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