Welfare of cattle: code of practice

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


The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388) define a "person responsible" as a person responsible for an animal in terms of section 18 of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and includes a keeper and a food business operator.

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

Animals must be cared for by a sufficient number of staff who possess the appropriate ability, knowledge and professional competence.


7 The stock-keeper has the most significant influence on the welfare of cattle. The stock-keeper should draw up a written health and welfare plan with the herd's veterinary surgeon and, where necessary, other technical advisors, which should be reviewed and updated each year. This plan should set out health and husbandry activities that cover the whole year's cycle of production, and include strategies to prevent, treat or limit existing disease problems. The plan should include records to enable you to monitor and assess the health and welfare of the herd.

8 Those responsible for farm management should make sure that the cattle are cared for by enough well-motivated and competent staff. These staff need to be aware of the welfare needs of cattle and be capable of protecting them from all expected problems before they are given any responsibility. This means that the staff need specific knowledge and skills, which they should develop on-farm by working with a skilled stock-keeper who is experienced in the relevant system. Wherever possible, staff should also go on a course run by a suitable training organisation. Ideally, the training should lead to formal recognition of competence. Any contract or casual labour used on the farm in busy periods should be trained and competent in the relevant activity.

9 Stock-keepers should be knowledgeable and competent in a wide range of animal health and welfare skills, which should include:

  • handling skills (see paragraphs 14-16)
  • ear tagging (see paragraphs 18-21)
  • biosecurity (see paragraphs 28-30)
  • preventing and treating certain basic or common cases of lameness (see paragraphs 31-33)
  • preventing and treating internal and external parasites (see paragraphs 34-35)
  • administering medicines (see paragraph 36)
  • providing appropriate care to sick and injured cattle (see paragraphs 39-41)
  • castration (see paragraph 116)
  • disbudding (see paragraphs 117-119)
  • removing supernumerary (extra) teats (see paragraph 120)
  • milking (see paragraphs 143-147)

It is particularly important that stock-keepers are competent in calving assessments and simple deliveries, if this is part of their role. If they are expected to perform specific tasks on-farm, such as foot trimming, then appropriate training should be given. Otherwise, a veterinary surgeon or, for certain tasks, a competent and trained contractor will be required.

10 It is important that grazing cattle, especially young stock come into regular contact with a stock-keeper so that they will not be too frightened if they need to be gathered or treated. Careful supervision and handling of the animals will reduce their fear. The stock-keeper needs a back-up plan and equipment available if he needs to catch and restrain an extensively grazed animal that is not so used to human contact (for example, if it needs to see a veterinary surgeon). You should avoid mixing groups of animals, especially where the animals are horned.


The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388) Schedule 1, paragraph 2, requires that:

  • animals kept in husbandry systems in which their welfare depends on frequent human attention must be adequately inspected at least once a day to check that they are in a state of well-being
  • animals kept in systems other than husbandry systems in which their welfare depends on frequent human attention must be inspected at intervals sufficient to avoid any suffering

11 The health and welfare of animals depends on them being regularly inspected. All stock-keepers should be familiar with the normal behaviour of cattle and should watch for any signs of distress or disease. To do this, it is important that stock-keepers have enough time to:

  • inspect the stock
  • check equipment
  • take action to deal with any problem

There are more detailed inspection rules for calves (see box before paragraph 99 and paragraphs 99-101)

12 The stock-keeper should be aware of the signs of ill-health in cattle, which include:

  • listlessness
  • separation from the group
  • unusual behaviour
  • loss of body condition
  • loss of appetite
  • a sudden fall in milk yield
  • constipation
  • scouring (diarrhoea)
  • not cudding
  • any discharge from the nostrils or eyes
  • producing more saliva than usual
  • persistent coughing
  • rapid or irregular breathing
  • swollen joints
  • lameness
  • mastitis

13 You should be able to anticipate problems or recognise them in their earliest stages. In many cases, you should be able to identify the cause and put matters right immediately. You should always consider the possibility that cattle may be affected by a notifiable disease (see paragraphs 37-38). If the cause is not obvious, or if your immediate action is not effective, a veterinary surgeon or other expert should be called in immediately - failure to do so may cause unnecessary suffering.


The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388), Schedule 1, Paragraph 30, states that:

No person may apply an electrical current to any animal for the purposes of immobilisation.

14 Cattle should be moved at their own pace, without being hurried by stock-keepers, vehicles or dogs. You should encourage them gently - especially around corners and where it is slippery underfoot. You should avoid using too much noise, excitement or force. You must not put pressure or strike at any particularly sensitive part of the body (such as the head or udder). Anything that you use to guide the animals (such as a stick) should only be used for that purpose and must not have a sharp or pointed end. The use of electric goads on adult cattle should be avoided as far as possible. If goads are used, you should always ensure that there is sufficient space for them to move forward.

15 You should regularly assess the type and condition of any track on which cattle are moved and the distance from housing or milking facilities to pasture. Your assessment should include:

  • gateways
  • tracks
  • the areas surrounding water troughs

So that you can take appropriate action to avoid possible injury or lameness.

You should make sure that any concrete floors and walkways have a non-slip surface, which does not cause too much pressure or excessive abrasion on the animals' feet.

16 All stock-keepers should have access to easy-to-use and efficient handling pens (the right size and scale for the type and number of animals in the herd). This is so that you can routinely manage and treat the animals, and make sure that they are quietly and firmly handled. Ideally, these handling pens should protect the animals from extreme weather. You should keep all pens, races (narrow passageways), crushes (restraining gates to assist handling) and floors in good condition and make sure that they are free from any sharp edges or projections which might injure cattle. Where possible races should be gently curved rather than have right-angled bends.


Transport off-farm

Annex 1, Chapter III of Council Regulation ( EC) No. 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations, states that:

It shall be prohibited to:

(a) strike or kick the animals;

(b) apply pressure to any particularly sensitive part of the body in such a way as to cause them unnecessary pain or suffering;

(c) suspend the animals themselves by mechanical means;

(d) lift or drag the animals by head, ears, horns, legs, tail or fleece, or handle them in such a way as to cause them unnecessary pain or suffering;

(e) use prods or other implements with pointed ends;

(f) knowingly obstruct any animal which is being driven or led through any part where animals are handled.

The use of instruments which administer electric shocks shall be avoided as far as possible. In any case, these instruments shall only be used for adult bovine animals and adult pigs which refuse to move and only when they have room ahead of them in which to move. The shocks shall last no longer than one second, be adequately spaced and shall only be applied to the muscles of the hindquarters. Shocks shall not be used repeatedly if the animal fails to respond.

Annex 1, Chapter III of Council Regulation ( EC) No. 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations, states that:

Facilities for loading and unloading, including the flooring, shall be designed, constructed, maintained and operated so as to:

(a) prevent injury and suffering and minimise excitement and distress during animal movements as well as to ensure the safety of the animals. In particular, surfaces shall not be slippery and lateral protections shall be provided so as to prevent animals from escaping.

(b) be cleaned and disinfected.

(c) ramps shall not be steeper than an angle of 20 degrees, that is 36.4% to the horizontal for pigs, calves and horses and an angle of 26 degrees
34 minutes, that is 50% to the horizontal for sheep and cattle other than calves. Where the slope is steeper than
10 degrees, that is 17.6% to the horizontal, ramps shall be fitted with a system, such as provided by foot battens, which ensure that the animals climb or go down without risks or difficulties.

17 You should have the facilities on-farm to load and unload cattle onto and from a vehicle, with as little stress as possible. Stock-keepers should know how to handle animals during loading and unloading, including:

  • using visual fields ( i.e. cattle have a wide field of vision but have a blind spot behind them, which you should avoid entering) and flight zones (an imaginary area which if you enter will make the animal want to move away. You can control an animal's movement by understanding the flight zone)
  • lighting (as cattle prefer to move from the dark into the light)
  • when and how to use such things as sticks and other implements


18 The law states that all cattle must be permanently identified by an official ear tag in each ear. These ear tags should be fitted by a properly trained and competent operator, so that the animal does not suffer any unnecessary pain or distress - either when the tags are fitted or later. Think carefully about the best type of tags for your animals. A suitable style and size of tag should be used for the breed of animal. Make sure that you fit the tag correctly by following the manufacturers' instructions and using the correct applicator for the model of tag you are fitting. Always fit the tags under hygienic conditions.

19 When fitting ear tags, you must properly restrain the animals. You should take care to position and insert tags correctly, avoiding main blood vessels and ridges of cartilage. When inserted, the tag should be properly closed to minimise snagging. Remember to leave a suitable gap under the tag and at the edge of the ear to allow for growth. If you are tagging cattle during the fly season ( i.e. summer) you should take precautions to prevent the animals being irritated by flies.

20 If you are marking the cattle with neck bands or chains, and tail bands or leg bands (which you use for herd management identification purposes) you should fit them carefully and adjust them as necessary to avoid causing the animals any unnecessary pain, suffering or injury. If you are using aerosols or paints for temporary marking, make sure you only use non-toxic (safe) substances.

21 You can find out more information on cattle identification and cattle movements from the British Cattle Movement Service (see the Appendix for contact details).


22 Anyone who clips cattle should be experienced, competent and trained in clipping techniques. Clipping operators should clean and disinfect their equipment between cattle to reduce the risk of spreading disease. The clippers they use should always be appropriate for the purpose and well maintained.


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