Impact of daily grazing time on dairy cow welfare-results of the Welfare Quality® Protocol
Grazing provides livestock better opportunities to act out their species-specific behavior compared to restrictive stable conditions. The aim of the present study was to examine the effects of daily grazing time on welfare of dairy cows in organic and conventional farms based on the Welfare Quality® assessment protocol for dairy cattle (WQ®). Therefore, we applied the WQ® on 32 dairy farms (classified in 3 groups: Group 0, minor/zero grazing, n = 14; Group 1, medium grazing, n = 10; Group 2, high grazing, n = 8). We assessed the status of animal welfare once in winter and once in summer. For statistical analyses we used mixed models for repeated measures, with group, season, and their interaction as fixed factors. At the WQ® criteria level, five out of nine examined criteria improved in farms with grazing between winter and summer. In contrast, the welfare situation in minor/zero grazing farms remained largely unchanged. At the level of WQ® measures, only the individual parameters “% of cows with hairless patches” and “% of lame cows” were affected positively by high grazing. Grazing offers a potential to enhance welfare of dairy cows during the summer season, while beneficial effects are not guaranteed when management does not satisfy the animals´ needs.