Welfare of cattle: code of practice

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



23 Maintenance of good health is the most basic requirement affecting the welfare of cattle. Measures to protect health include good hygiene, good husbandry and effective ventilation. Vaccinations may be appropriate against certain diseases. You should ensure that only authorised veterinary medicinal products, including vaccines, are used.

24 The written health and welfare plan (see paragraph 7) should also, as a minimum, look at:

  • biosecurity arrangements on-farm and in transport
  • purchased stock procedures
  • any specific disease programmes, such as leptospirosis, Johne's disease, salmonella, BVD and tuberculosis
  • vaccination policy and timing
  • isolation procedures
  • external and internal parasite control
  • lungworm control
  • lameness monitoring and foot care
  • routine procedures, such as ear tagging
  • mastitis control

The health and welfare plan should make sure that animals get any necessary medical treatment at the correct time and in the correct dose.

25 In geographical areas with known mineral deficiencies and imbalances - and where vitamin or mineral deficiencies are likely - you may need to supplement the animals' diet. Supplementary magnesium should be provided during periods when there is a recognised risk of deficiency, for example, in early spring or at weaning in suckler herds. This aspect should be covered in your health and welfare plan. Equally, too much of a particular vitamin or mineral may cause problems. For example, too much copper can lead to copper poisoning. You need to look carefully at the amount of copper in the existing diet, prior to the administration of copper orally or by injection.

26 If your herd has a serious problem with summer mastitis, you need advice from a veterinary surgeon about introducing a suitable control programme. Controls for summer mastitis may include:

  • dry cow therapy
  • teat sealants
  • controlling flies (particularly from July to September) by using ear tags impregnated with insecticide or pour-on/spray insecticides
  • where possible, avoiding high-risk pastures (such as areas close to hedges and slow moving water which attracts flies) (see paragraph 142)

Condition scoring

27 Body-condition scoring can contribute greatly to good husbandry and help to avoid costly welfare problems. Condition scoring is an easy technique to learn. Basically, it means that you can quickly assess the body reserves ( i.e. fat) of individual animals. The technique will be of benefit if you use it as a routine management tool to check that cattle are in the target condition for each stage of the production cycle. This will be particularly useful at:

  • drying off or weaning
  • calving
  • peak yield
  • early lactation

You should adjust feeding as necessary for animals that are too fat or too thin.


28 Biosecurity is about taking action to reduce the risk of disease occurring or spreading to other animals. Good biosecurity can be obtained through:

  • monitoring your herd for signs of disease. If you suspect notifiable disease, contact the local Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency Office immediately and isolate the sick animal(s) (see paragraph 38)
  • creating a health plan with your veterinary surgeon to recognise, treat and control existing conditions
  • good farm management/husbandry
  • thorough cleansing and disinfection of:
    - vehicles and equipment, if exposed to other farms' animals
    - buildings after use by livestock
  • reducing stress on the herd
  • effective disease control systems such as vaccination and worming programmes
  • biosecurity results in:
  1. improved animal health and welfare;
  2. greater economic value of animals;
  3. increased business productivity;
  4. farm units being more secure from the introduction of new infectious diseases;
  5. the spread of any diseases on the unit itself being kept to a minimum.

29 Buying in new animals is associated with the risk of introducing disease. Whilst stock cannot be guaranteed free of disease, it is possible to determine and minimise the risk through careful planning. Buy your stock from as small a number of sources as possible. Ensure that replacement stock comes from an accredited herd and/or a herd with a high, proved, health status. Obtain information on the recent history of the herd and what treatments/vaccinations the animals have received. You should also know when the herd was last tested for TB or brucellosis. If you are careful when you move livestock onto a farm, and within the farm (particularly if the farm is on more than one site), this can greatly reduce the chance of a major outbreak of disease. For example, any cattle must only be transported in vehicles that have been properly cleansed and disinfected.

30 In all situations (including where animals are acquired from herds certified free of specific diseases), you should have isolation facilities so that you can observe/test new arrivals for disease for a suitable period and treat for internal and external parasites, before they join the rest of the herd. Hired bulls should only be used when no alternative is available. The potential disease status of the hired bull should be carefully considered prior to its introduction. Get advice from your veterinary surgeon.


31 Lameness in any animal is usually a sign that they are in pain. Lameness in cattle is a sign of ill-health and discomfort. It clearly affects animals' welfare, as well as their performance and production. For this reason, very lame cows should be taken off concrete and housed in a suitably bedded pen. If a significant percentage of your cattle has severe lameness, this can be a sign of poor overall welfare standards within the herd.

32 If lame cows do not respond to treatment, you need to call a veterinary surgeon immediately. Lameness can have a number of causes. This is why you need the veterinary surgeon's early and accurate diagnosis of the specific type of lameness affecting the herd before you can identify the likely causes and take the appropriate action.

33 If a lame animal does not respond to the veterinary surgeon's treatment, you should have it culled rather than leave it to suffer. If you cannot transport lame animals without causing them more pain, you should slaughter them on the farm (see paragraph 47). Also, you must not transport any cattle off-farm that cannot stand up unaided or cannot bear their weight on all four legs when standing or walking. You should not take any cattle that can bear weight on all four feet but are slightly lame to market or anywhere else if it is likely to aggravate the injury, however slightly.

External parasites

34 You should control diseases caused by external parasites - especially where the animal's skin is irritated and it is rubbing the area - with the appropriate parasiticides. You should treat your animals for parasites with your veterinary surgeon's advice and ensure that control and treatment regimes form part of your herd health and welfare plan.

Internal parasites

35 You should control internal parasites by planning the grazing rotation and by using effective medicinal products (to control roundworm and fluke) or vaccines (to prevent lungworms). As part of the herd health and welfare plan you should ensure that treatment is based on the life cycle of the particular parasites you are tackling. You should treat your animals for parasites with your veterinary surgeon's advice. Organic producers, in particular, should seek veterinary advice on this aspect of their health and welfare plan.

Dosing and vaccination equipment

36 You must make sure that all the equipment you use for dosing, vaccinating and treating the animals is in good working order. Ideally, use equipment from your own farm. If you must borrow it, make sure it is cleaned and disinfected before use on your farm. You should regularly clean and sterilise any equipment you use for injections, to avoid infections and abscesses. Ideally, you should use disposable needles. The size of a dosing-gun nozzle should be suitable for the animal's age. You should dispose of any dangerous objects (such as needles) safely. Products should be administered according to manufacturer's instructions and you should be trained to give treatments - such as injections or boluses by mouth - as the animals could be injured by poor administration of treatment.

Notifiable diseases

37 If you suspect that any animal is suffering from a notifiable disease, you have a legal duty to notify a Veterinary Leader (replacement for DVMs) as soon as possible.

38 The following are the main notifiable diseases which affect cattle:

For more information on these diseases contact your veterinary surgeon or local Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency Divisional Office.

Sick and injured animals

The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388) Schedule 1, paragraph 5, states that:

Any animals which appear to be ill or injured:

(a) must be cared for appropriately without delay; and

(b) where they do not respond to such care, veterinary advice must be obtained as soon as reasonably practicable.

The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388) Schedule 1, paragraph 6, states that:

Where necessary, sick or injured animals must be isolated in suitable accommodation with, where appropriate, dry comfortable bedding.

39 You should take action immediately if any cattle are injured or appear ill or distressed. It is important to exclude the possibility of notifiable diseases. If you are in any doubt about the ill-health or the most effective treatment, consult your veterinary surgeon without delay. Likewise, if an animal you have treated does not respond to treatment, seek your veterinary surgeon's advice.

40 When necessary, you should have a procedure for isolating and caring for sick or injured animals. Hospital pens should be an essential component of any cattle unit and they should have an entrance that is wide enough for an animal to be easily herded into the pen. When moving sick or injured cattle to the hospital pens, you should ensure that unnecessary suffering does not occur. These pens should be easily reached so that you can regularly check on the animal. You should make sure that drinking water is freely available in the pens, and that there are feeding facilities.

The possibility of spillage should be minimised by using an appropriate receptacle and positioning it carefully, so as not to wet the lying area and deprive the animal of feed or water. Ideally, you should also be able to milk any cows in them, if you need to.

41 If an unfit animal does not respond to treatment it should be humanely killed on-farm (culled). You should cull any animals suffering from an incurable condition (such as mucosal disease or Johne's disease), poisoning or untreatable painful conditions, as soon as possible after diagnosis.

Downer animals

42 When an animal is unable to rise - a 'downer animal' - the prospect for recovery of the animal can be greatly increased by providing quality care in the initial period of recumbency. The animal should be provided with a comfortable dry lying area and given food and water. Treatment should include frequent turning to ensure that the animal is not continuously resting on one side or leg, which could lead to irreversible muscle damage.

43 When an animal becomes recumbent, it is important to identify the likely cause. Where there is a history of trauma, for example, falling or slipping, a veterinary surgeon should assess the extent of any injury. Where the prognosis for recovery is poor, early intervention, by humanely destroying the animal on-farm, should not be delayed.

44 Where the history indicates a medical origin for the recumbency, such as milk fever or toxic mastitis, appropriate treatment should be given in accordance with veterinary advice. Where a 'downer animal' has not responded to treatment, it should be assessed by a veterinary surgeon. Attempts to lift 'downer animals' must not be made prior to an assessment by a veterinary surgeon, to ensure that the procedure will not result in additional suffering for the animal.

Article 3 of Council Regulation ( EC) No. 1/2005 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations, states that:

No person shall transport animals or cause animals to be transported in a way likely to cause injury or undue suffering to them.

In addition, the following conditions shall be complied with:

(a) all necessary arrangements have been made in advance to minimise the length of the journey and meet animals' needs during the journey;

(b) the animals are fit for the journey;

(c) the means of transport are designed, constructed, maintained and operated so as to avoid injury and suffering and ensure the safety of the animals;

(d) the loading and unloading facilities are adequately designed, constructed, maintained and operated so as to avoid injury and suffering and ensure the safety of the animals;

(e) the personnel handling animals are trained or competent as appropriate for this purpose and carry out their tasks without using violence or any method likely to cause unnecessary fear, injury or suffering;

(f) the transport is carried out without delay to the place of destination and the welfare conditions of the animals are regularly checked and appropriately maintained;

(g) sufficient floor area and height is provided for the animals, appropriate to their size and the intended journey;

(h) water, feed and rest are offered to the animals at suitable intervals and are appropriate in quality and quantity to their species and size.

Annex 1, Chapter I states that:

However, sick or injured animals may be considered fit for transport if they are:

(a) slightly injured or ill and transport would not cause additional suffering: in cases of doubt, veterinary advice shall be sought;

(b) transported for the purpose of Council Directive 86/609/ EEC if the illness or injury is part of a research programme;

(c) transported under veterinary supervision for or following veterinary treatment or diagnosis. However, such transport shall be permitted only where no unnecessary suffering or ill treatment is caused to the animals concerned;

(d) animals that have been submitted to veterinary procedures in relation to farming practices such as dehorning or castration, provided that wounds have completely healed.

45 You can only transport an unfit animal if you are taking it to a veterinary surgeon for treatment or diagnosis, or to the nearest available place of slaughter and even then, only if you do so in a way that does not cause the animal any more suffering. You will find more information in Defra's booklet, guidance on the transport of casualty farm animals (see the Appendix).

46 In an emergency, you may have to slaughter an animal immediately to prevent its suffering. In such cases, you should destroy the animal humanely and, where possible, it should be done by someone who is suitably trained and competent both in slaughter methods and use of the equipment. Under these emergency circumstances a slaughter licence is not required.

It is a general offence under the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulation 1995 (S.I. 1995 No. 731) to cause or permit any avoidable excitement, pain or suffering to any animal during slaughter or killing (regulation 4(1)).

The general offence applies in all cases, but the detailed provisions in respect of the method of slaughter or killing do not apply when an animal has to be killed immediately for emergency reasons (regulation 13(2)).

47 If you have to slaughter the animals on-farm in a non-emergency situation, you must do so using a permitted method which is in line with current welfare at slaughter legislation (see next).

The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (S.I. 1995 No. 731) state that when an animal is slaughtered or killed on-farm, this must be done using a permitted method. The animal must be either:

  • stunned using a captive bolt pistol, concussion stunner or electrical stunner after which it must be followed by bleeding - or pithed - without delay (regulation 14 and Schedules 5 (Part II) and 6). If the animal is stunned and bled, the operation must be carried out by a slaughterman licensed for these operations (Schedule 1), unless the owner is slaughtering an animal for his own consumption
  • killed by a free bullet (regulation 15 and Schedule 5 Part III); the animal should be killed with a single shot to the head.

NB The Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 (as amended) will be repealed when Council Regulation ( EC) No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing comes into effect on 1 January 2013.

48 After slaughter, you must dispose of the carcase by a suitable method (see the box below):

Regulation ( EC) 1069/2009 laying down rules as regards animal by-products and derived products not intended for human consumption, requires that fallen stock are disposed of by:

  • despatch to a knackers yard, hunt kennel or similar premises
  • incineration
  • rendering
  • in certain designated remote areas, burial in such a way that carnivorous animals cannot gain access to the carcase, or burning

This provision applies to the disposal of still-born or unborn calves, as well as to older cattle.

Record keeping

The Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010 (S.S.I. 2010 No. 388) Schedule 1, paragraph 7, states that:

A record must be maintained of:

(a) any medicinal treatment given to animals; and

(b) the number of mortalities found on each inspection of animals.

Schedule 1, paragraph 8 states that:

The record referred to in paragraph 7 must be retained for a period of at least 3 years from the date on which the medicinal treatment was given, or the date of the inspection, as the case may be, and must be made available to an inspector on request.

It is a requirement under the Veterinary Medicine Regulations 2011 (S.I. 2011 No. 2159), regulation 189, that you keep a record of:

'The name and address of the supplier of the veterinary medicinal product.'

49 You should only buy and use authorised animal medicines. You must keep full records of all the medicine you buy, including where you bought it. Also, you must keep records for at least three years of:

  • the date you treated the animals
  • how much medicine you used
  • which animal or group of animals you treated

You will find more information in the Code of Practice on responsible use of animal medicines on the farm (see the Appendix).

50 In terms of individual animal management, you may find it useful, as part of the health and welfare plan, to note specific cases of mastitis, lameness and disorders, such as milk fever, and where appropriate, the relevant treatment given.


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