Navigating the iceberg: reducing the number of parameters within the Welfare Quality® assessment protocol for dairy cows

C. A E Heath*, W. J. Browne, S. Mullan, D. C J Main

*Corresponding author for this work

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

30 Citations (Scopus)


The Welfare Quality ® protocols provide a multidimensional assessment of welfare, which is lengthy, and hence limited in terms of practicality. The aim of this study was to investigate potential ‘iceberg indicators’ which could reliably predict the overall classification as a means of reducing the length of time for an assessment and so increase the feasibility of the Welfare Quality ® protocol as a multidimensional assessment of welfare. Full Welfare Quality ® assessments were carried out on 92 dairy farms in England and Wales. The farms were all classified as Acceptable or Enhanced. Logistic regression models with cross validation were used to compare model fit for the overall classification on farms. ‘Absence of prolonged thirst’, on its own, was found to correctly classify farms 88% of the time. More generally, the inclusion of more measures in the models was not associated with greater predictive ability for the overall classification. Absence of prolonged thirst could thus, in theory, be considered to be an iceberg indicator for the Welfare Quality ® protocol, and could reduce the length of time for a farm assessment to 15 min. Previous work has shown that the parameters within the Welfare Quality ® protocol are important and relevant for welfare assessment. However, it is argued that the credibility of the published aggregation system is compromised by the finding that one resource measure (Absence of prolonged thirst) is a major driver for the overall classification. It is therefore suggested that the prominence of Absence of prolonged thirst in this role may be better understood as an unintended consequence of the published measure aggregation system rather than as reflecting a realistic iceberg indicator.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1978-1986
Number of pages9
Issue number12
Early online date27 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


  • aggregation
  • animal welfare
  • classification
  • dairy cows
  • models


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