Data to evaluate cow comfort

Author: Kristine Piccart (ILVO) - Date: April 30, 2019

Animal welfare is a growing concern for consumers, who often associate the increasing herd sizes per farm with a negative impact on animal welfare. 

The breakthrough of precision livestock farming might also raise some concerns about the impact of technology on animal welfare. People are often skeptical about ongoing scale enlargement and sometimes fear that the modern farm with its automation and sensors will lead to less care for the animal (see the "4D4F Consumer and civil society feedback, 2016"). Technology is usually seen as a tool to improve production and profit, rather than to improve animal welfare.

However, the abundance of data on dairy farms also opens up new possibilities to monitor animal welfare at farm level and advise farmers on how they can improve their management. Farm-specific data can be applied in a decision tool for farmers and advisors to score animal welfare on their farms. 

A standard operating proedure (SOP) on monitoring cow comfort using both visual assessments and sensor data was recently published on the 4D4F website. The SOP shows how rumination data and lying times (as registered by commercial activity meters) can be used to evaluate cow comfort in the barn. This SOP demonstrates how sensor data can also be used to improve the welfare of the dairy cow, as opposed to the idea that sensors are only of value to increase farm productivity.

The KPI’s (key performance indicators) and cut-off values used in this SOP are based on the Animal Welfare Scan of Boerenbond (a farmer organization in Belgium), scientific publications and personal experience. Of course, we stimulate farmers and advisors to adapt this particular SOP to their own situation, but it is nevertheless a good starting point.

For more information on the integration of digital data into the Animal Welfare Scan, click here.