National farm assurance scheme demonstrates welfare outcome improvements for sustainable intensification of dairy production

Siobhan Mullan*, Philippa Wiltshire, Kate Cross, David C J Main, Kate Still, Madeleine Crawley, Andrew W Dowsey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Animal welfare is a key pillar of sustainability in livestock farming but can be challenging to deliver improvements in when productivity is high. In October 2013 the Red Tractor UK national dairy assurance scheme introduced welfare outcome monitoring on its 11,500 farms covering 95% of UK milk produced. Here we show that 98 farm assurance assessors achieved high levels of agreement with a gold standard and report data they collected for three years from 248,689 cows, typically 10 cows per farm, during 19,899 audits. Between 2013/14 and 2015/16, the estimated national prevalence fell significantly for lameness (from 10.0% to 7.9%), dirtiness (from 12.4% to 9.2%), ‘hairloss, lesions and swellings’ (from 9.3% to 6.5%), and fat cows (from 2.4% to 1.9%). This occurred at a time when milk yield per cow increased. We have demonstrated an effective implementation strategy suitable for uptake internationally to align with societal sustainability goals.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Journal of Agricultural Sustainability
Early online date11 Aug 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by the Tubney Charitable Trust through the AssureWel project under which this work was conducted. Prof Dowsey was supported by The Alan Turing Institute under the EPSRC grant EP/N510129/1.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • sustainable intensification
  • animal welfare
  • farm assurance
  • dairy cows
  • welfare outcomes

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