Welfare of cattle: code of practice

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

Dairy cows


135 It is recommended that at least once a month, you should record the daily milk yield of each lactating dairy cow and monitor this against the appropriate lactation curves for the yield level of the herd. You should use these figures and other available data as a management tool in order to identify possible welfare problems at an early stage.

136 When you offer concentrated dry feeds on their own to dairy cows, you should normally limit the amounts to a maximum of 4kg in any one feed. This is to reduce the risk of rumen acidosis (i.e. too much grain in the rumen leading to digestive problems) and other metabolic disorders. To make sure that the animals have enough to eat, you should make alternative feeds freely available at all times.

137 To allow for cows to eat as much forage as they want, you should offer more than you expect them to eat each day. You should remove any old or stale feed which could contaminate fresh feed and spoil the animals' appetite.

138 You should carefully introduce dairy heifers to the adult herd at least four weeks before calving, so that they have time to get used to their new and unfamiliar surroundings - including the milking parlour.

139 If you are introducing cows of high genetic potential into a dairy herd (i.e. cows that have been bred for high milk yield), you will need expert advice on nutrition. High metabolic turnover in such cows can mean that they have a greater risk of:

  • mastitis
  • lameness
  • failure to become pregnant or maintain pregnancy
  • metabolic disorders

These animals potentially need a higher standard of management and nutrition to maintain a satisfactory standard of welfare.

140 Before high-yielding dairy cattle are fed on conserved forages (such as silage and hay), you should analyse feed samples to check their nutritional value. If necessary, you should get expert advice on how you can supplement the diet to match the animals' age and species. You also need to analyse the quality of feeds you buy (including by-products, such as brewers' grains), if the supplier does not provide an analysis.

141 You should dry lactating cows off quickly and put them on an appetising forage diet, which will maintain their body condition. From two to three weeks before calving, you should gradually introduce the cows to the production ration (i.e. the phased introduction of the higher energy, post-calving diet) to avoid a sudden change of diet.


142 As with any other infection, mastitis can cause the animals distress and suffering so you should therefore control it. Despite the overall reduction in clinical mastitis, the level of environmental infection has hardly changed. Dairy producers should follow the Defra Mastitis Management Action Plan (Mastitis MAP) which, together with good stockmanship and environmental management, will help you to control mastitis infection.

The Mastitis MAP covers:

  • hygiene teat management (such as keeping the teats clean)
  • promptly identifying and treating clinical cases
  • dry-cow management and therapy
  • accurate record keeping
  • culling of chronically infected cows
  • regular milking-machine maintenance and testing

You will find more information in Defra's booklet, treatment and prevention of mastitis in dairy cows (see the Appendix).


143 You should never leave lactating dairy cows unmilked or with over-full udders. Anyone who milks cows - including relief milkers - should be fully competent to perform all milking procedures. Ideally, formal training should be given to milkers, which would include a period of full supervision by competent, trained operators.

144 A milking machine that is working properly is essential for:

  • the cow's comfort
  • optimum milking performance
  • udder health

During each milking session, you should make simple checks (such as the working vacuum level) and carry out routine maintenance to make sure that the milking machine is working properly.

145 Where necessary, you should upgrade the milking machine so that there is no machine damage caused to teats and that the cyclic vacuum fluctuations are within the recommended range. You may need specialist advice for this.

146 You should have new or refurbished installations independently tested to ensure correct operation in accordance with manufacturer's recommendations and those contained in the 'British standard for milking machine installations' (see the Appendix).

147 Each year, a trained and competent operator should carry out at least one full working assessment of the machinery, to ensure that it is operating correctly and to make any necessary repairs or adjustments.


Back to top