FACT: Animal welfare can be judged on the basis of an animal’s access to the ‘five freedoms’ i.e. animals should be:
- free from hunger and thirst;
- free from discomfort;
- free from pain, injury or disease;
- free to express normal behaviour; and
- free from fear and distress.
With regard to the dairy industry in Ireland, Irish cows are considered to experience high standards of animal welfare.
The majority of Irish cows roam freely on green pastures for up to 300 days a year, which is their natural environment where they can express normal behaviour. During the coldest winter months, these cows are housed indoors to ensure adequate nutrition and protect them from adverse weather.
Farmers are legally and ethically obliged to provide a good standard of welfare for the animals in their care and actively monitor the health and behaviour of their herd each day. Ensuring optimal health across the herd is also central to the production of high-quality milk. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), in collaboration with Animal Health Ireland and Teagasc, provide a range of resources to guide farmers in this area. As part of routine disease monitoring programmes, all dairy herds are visited by an independent veterinary expert annually. These visits and other DAFM inspections provide an additional opportunity to identify indicators of poor herd conditions.