Welfare of cattle: code of practice

The aim of the code is to help those responsible for cattle to look after them properly.

Breeding animals


The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388) Schedule 1, Paragraph 28, states that:

(1) Natural or artificial breeding or breeding procedures which cause, or are likely to cause, suffering or injury to any of the animals concerned must not be practised.

(2) Sub-paragraph (1) does not preclude the use of natural or artificial breeding procedures which are likely to cause minimal or momentary suffering or injury or that might necessitate interventions which would not cause lasting injury.

Schedule 1, paragraph 29 states that:

No person may keep an animal for farming purposes unless it can reasonably be expected, on the basis of its genotype or phenotype, that it can be kept without detrimental effect on its health or welfare.

121 To rear heifers, you need to demonstrate conscientious and knowledgeable management during their growing period, and through to calving. The animals should show steady growth to meet recommended target weights, so that they will successfully calve at a weight and size suitable for introduction to the adult herd. You should not deliberately mate heifers that are too small, or mate females with an inappropriate bull, or breed of bull. If you do, you are likely to produce calves which will be subject to a high degree of calving difficulties due to their high birth weight or conformation. Every effort should be taken to ensure that such matings do not take place accidentally. Where it becomes apparent that an inappropriate mating has occurred, veterinary advice should be sought on how best to handle the situation.

122 A high priority in the breeding selection policy should be to include qualities that will improve the welfare of the animals, for example, leg and foot conformation which would lessen the likelihood of lameness. You should not breed from any animals that have deformities or other weaknesses, where these could affect the general welfare of the stock. For beef cattle in particular, you should breed from animals that are more docile (less aggressive), and also animals with good muscular-skeletal structures (which can reduce lameness). Where possible, you should breed from naturally-polled cattle ( i.e. those with no horns) as this avoids the need for disbudding or dehorning.


123 In breeding herds where you use supervised or artificial mating and at calving times, the stock-keeper should allow enough time to monitor oestrus activity, so as to avoid the unnecessary use of hormones or other treatments. At least twice a day, the stock-keeper should inspect all lactating dairy cows and cattle close to calving.


124 A lactating cow needs an appropriate diet to satisfy her nutritional needs, without harming her body condition and metabolism. The amount an animal consumes will be dependent on the quantity, quality and accessibility of the feed provided and the time spend eating. Anything which interferes with this, such as lameness, will have a detrimental effect on the health and welfare of the animal.

125 You should regularly inspect the feet of all cattle - including bulls - and trim them when necessary. A foot-care programme for your herd should be part of your farm's written health and welfare plan. Foot trimming is of value for all cattle, not just for cows that are lame. You should not attempt foot trimming unless you are properly trained and you have restraining facilities for the animals. This is because poor foot trimming can cause lameness. If you are in any doubt, get advice from a veterinary surgeon.

Natural service - bulls

126 When natural mating is used, young bulls should only be introduced to small groups of cows (ideally 10-15). Extra feed should be offered as necessary.

127 All bulls should have good and safe service conditions. Slatted floors and slippery conditions underfoot, (for example, in yards, cubicles and passageways) are not suitable for mating animals.

Artificial insemination ( AI) and embryo transfer

Under the Artificial Insemination of Cattle (Animal Health) (Scotland) Regulations 1985 (S.I. 1985 No. 1857), as amended, AI may only be carried out by a veterinary surgeon, a competent full-time employee of a licensed supply centre or, in the case of cows in his ownership, by a farmer or his employee who has been trained under Regulation 24(b)(iv).

Under the Bovine Embryo (Collection, Production and Transfer) Regulations 1995 (S.I. 1995 No. 2478):

- Embryo collection may only be undertaken by someone who is the team veterinarian of an approved embryo collection team or someone acting under his authority;

- Embryo transfer may be undertaken only by a veterinary surgeon or by a member of an approved embryo transfer team acting under the responsibility of the team veterinarian.

- Before embryo transfer takes place, the recipient cow must be clinically examined by a veterinary surgeon (within 30 days preceding transfer if the person who is to carry out the transfer is not a veterinary surgeon). The veterinary surgeon must certify that the recipient is suitable to receive the embryo, and that there is no reason at the time of examination to believe the recipient would not be able to carry it to term and to calve naturally;

- Embryo transfer and embryo collection may only be made if the animal concerned is given an appropriate anaesthetic (usually an epidural);

- Epidural anaesthesia may only be given by a veterinary surgeon, or by someone acting under the conditions set out in Article 3 of the Veterinary Surgery (Epidural Anaesthesia) Order 1992 (S.I. 1992 No. 696) which provides that unqualified persons must be properly trained and supervised.

128 You should keep the cows in familiar surroundings until insemination, at which time they can then be moved to an appropriate stall nearby and inseminated immediately.

129 Embryo transfer (the transplanting of an embryo from one cow into the uterus of a surrogate mother) should always be carried out in line with The Bovine Embryo (Collection, Production and Transfer) Regulations 1995. Surgical methods of embryo collection or transfer may only be carried out by a veterinary surgeon and should not be used as part of routine husbandry. Surgical methods should only be necessary when it is not possible to collect or transfer embryos by the usual method.

130 The recipient animal (the cow receiving the embryo) should be able to carry the chosen embryo to full term and to calve normally, without needing a caesarean section.

Caesarean sections should not be routinely undertaken.

131 Ovum pick up (collecting unfertilised eggs direct from the ovary of a cow or heifer, usually through a needle inserted through the wall of the vagina) must only be done by a veterinary surgeon as it is a surgical procedure. You should not use this procedure on young, immature heifers and, in any case, it should only be done rarely. Repeated epidural injections are necessary for this procedure and they can cause welfare problems for the animals (such as severe pain in the tailhead and lower back).

Ultrasound scanning

132 Ultrasound scanning through an animal's rectum is an invasive procedure that needs skill and training on the operator's part. The Veterinary Surgery (Rectal Ultrasound Scanning of Bovines) Order 2002 (2002/2584) requires lay operators to have attended an approved training course, undertaken a number of supervised scans and obtained a 'certificate of exemption', before they can carry out the procedure.

Bull pens

133 You should not neglect the welfare of bulls. Breeding bulls, where possible, should be kept with other stock, for example dry cows. Bull pens should be sited to allow the bull to see and hear farm activity. As a guide, accommodation for a single adult bull of average size should include a sleeping area of at least 16m². For bulls weighing over one tonne, the sleeping area should be at least 1m² for every 60 kg liveweight. If the bull is not regularly and routinely exercised outside the bull pen - or if you use the bull pen as the service area - the pen should include an exercise area at least twice as large as the sleeping area.

134 You should have facilities in the pen and exercise area so that you can securely restrain the bull with a yoke or similar device. This is so that you can carry out routine husbandry procedures (such as cleaning out the bull pen) and so that the bull can be treated when required.


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