Linking animal welfare to sustainability indicators of farms

Sylvia Warnecke, Hans Marten Paulsen, Harald Schmid, Jan Brinkmann, Helmut Frank, Solveig March


In a German network of so-called pilot farms we determined the animal health and welfare status of dairy cows with the Welfare Quality® Assessment protocol for cattle. Based on the results, we developed scenarios for the farm model REPRO to investigate interactions and potential environmental trade-offs in dairy production when dairy cow health and welfare are improved. This study was done in winter 2013/2014 as a preliminary study with four farms (two organic and conventional, each) and served as learning tool for an ongoing project with a total of 40 farms. Animal welfare status on the four farms was categorised as enhanced or acceptable, showing that all of the farms have a potential for improving animal welfare. The changes in management derived for the scenarios were: An increase in concentrate feeding in farm A, where only low amounts of concentrates are originally used. In farm B pasture access for dry cows was introduced and parts of maize silage in the diet of the cows were replaced by grass-clover silage. In farm C dry cows and youngstock were introduced to pasture. In farm D a hypothetically improved health management resulted in increasing the productive lifetime by one year. The calculated product related global warming potential (GWP) of milk did not change on farm A. On farms B and D, the GWP per kg of energy corrected milk decreased by 3.9 % and 5 %, while it increased by 2.6 % on farm C. The changes in GWP could be attributed e.g. to changes in land use and associated soil organic carbon contents on and off farm (B, C) or to a reduced number of replacement heifers (D). For the four farms and four scenarios that were analysed in this pilot study, the improvement of the animal health and welfare status by changing farm management only slightly influenced the product related GWP of milk. However, interactions of parameters of health and welfare and management in dairy farms are known to be strong. Hence, further analyses beyond this pilot study are ongoing for 40 farms in the network to assess effects of improving animal health and welfare on environmental burdens and resource efficiency of milk production.

Keywords: greenhouse gas emissions, animal health, animal welfare, resource efficiency, modelling

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