Are we making any real progress in addressing the main health and welfare problems in dairy cows? In the UK the dairy cow has been bred to produce more and more milk over the years and now we are playing catch-up in terms of how to look after her. For years she has been dogged by
health and welfare problems associated largely with inbreeding. 

Undoubtedly, two indicators of increasing levels of inbreeding are the inability to reproduce, and increasing susceptibility to disease. These problems are also a massive economic drain on the industry. 

In 2004, researchers from the Scottish Agricultural College stated that 96% of Holstein females and 98% of Holstein males were related to some degree. This would appear to be a far greater level of inbreeding than many pedigree dog breeds. Having been a herdsman for ten years, my conversations with farmers and industry representatives often revolve around the difficulty of getting animals in calf and the problems associated with lameness, mastitis and other conditions such as bovine viral diarrhoea (BVD), which are becoming endemic within the national herd. 

There have been very good initiatives by veterinary practices around the country linked to health planning; however, these tend to be piecemeal activities. This is why we urgently need a nationally co-ordinated strategy for dairy cow welfare, where all the industry comes together to forge a
way forward starting with genetics. 

John Avizienius, deputy head, RSPCA farm animal science department