An expert opinion elicitation, based on a modified Delphi technique, was organized to collect the opinion of 16 Italian veterinarians with the aim of conducting a hazard and a welfare promoter characterization for defining and weighing a list of management and housing factors potentially associated with negative or positive welfare outcomes in dairy cows kept in loose housing systems. In addition, the 16 experts judged a set of animal-based measures in order to rate them by appropriateness and by the level of animal pain and suffering due to the welfare consequences they measure. Veterinary experts were asked to score 52 hazards, 47 welfare promoters and 18 animal-based measures. Management and housing hazards, that were determined to be associated with a very high impact on the welfare of dairy cows, were mainly referred to lactating cows (absence of bedding material, presence of inadequate or slippery floor in walking areas, wrong design of the lying area), but also the use of harmful tools for animal handling and the lack of scheduled foot inspection, trimming and foot bathing reached very high impact scores. Management and housing welfare promoters dealing with optimal cow comfort around resting obtained the highest ratings, together with the presence of experienced and trained stockpersons, the implementation of an attentive animal grouping strategy and the control of temperature, humidity and ventilation. Considering animal-based measures, the highest ranking of importance was given to observation of lameness, records of mortality of adult cows and calves, observation of integument alterations and body condition scoring. This study has been the starting point for the development of the first Italian national protocol for the assessment of the welfare of dairy cows farmed in loose housing systems.
Preventive Veterinary Medicine – Elsevier
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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