Veterinary researchers at Massey University have created a way to assess the welfare of dairy cows within a day.
New Zealand currently had no industry-recognised protocol to assess dairy cow wellbeing, but the researchers said protocols tailored to Kiwi dairy farms were "essential".
Further testing was needed, but the team said this protocol could form the basis of a standardised process for monitoring the health of the country's dairy farms.
The aim of the study was to develop a practical and feasible, but science-based, welfare assessment protocol for a one-off single day assessment for pasture-based dairy cows in New Zealand.
Researchers said a New Zealand-specific protocol was essential, as almost all dairy farms were pasture-based and housing was rarely used.
Therefore, protocols developed for intensive cows were not suitable.
The study aimed to develop a simple yet practical assessment protocol that could be used to assess the welfare of a dairy herd during one visit, timed to occur around milking.
How the study was conducted
Six welfare assessment protocols and four studies of dairy cattle welfare assessments that had some focus on dairy cattle welfare at pasture were used - along with the New Zealand Dairy Cattle Code of Welfare - to identify potential assessments for inclusion in the protocol.
Eighty-four potential assessments (20 record-based and 64 that needed assessing on-farm) were identified by this process of welfare assessments.
After screening to exclude on-farm assessments that were not relevant, that had only limited practical application in pasture-based dairy cows, or that required more time than available, 28 on-farm assessments remained, which were put together with the 20 record-based assessments and were tested for feasibility, practicality and time on two pasture-based dairy farms.
Assessments were then identified as suitable, suitable after modification, or not feasible.
Suitable and modified assessments were then included in the final protocol alongside additional measures specific to New Zealand dairy farms.
The final protocol included 24 on-farm assessments and eight record-based assessments.
Researchers said that further testing of these 32 assessments was needed on more dairy farms across the country before the protocol could be used to routinely assess the welfare of dairy cows in New Zealand.
Read the full report here.