Body Condition Score

Cows in poor body condition are most likely to become nonambulatory. Body condition of dairy cattle usually is scored according to a comprehensive 5-point system.[2] At least 90% of cows at a farm should have a body-condition score of 2 or 3.

Calf Housing

The most widely recommended and adopted calf-housing system in climates ranging from desert to tundra is an individual hut, an open side facing away from the prevailing wind, with a small fenced pen. Bedding and wind and snow breaks may be employed as needed. The health, growth, and state of being of calves in such housing are, in general, superior to those in other kinds of accommodation.

Care of Newborn Bull Calves

Surplus bull calves should be cared for just as are heifer calves to be saved for replacement purposes. They should: receive an adequate dose of colostrum; not be transported until several days postnatum, when they are able to withstand the rigors of transportation; be transported as short a distance as possible, not from place to place to place, during the fragile first week after birth.


Surplus bull calves that are expected to be kept until they become yearlings should be castrated on safety grounds. Castration should be accomplished while calves are young. It is considered a standard agricultural practice, and ordinarily is accomplished without anesthesia because the procedure is considered relatively simple and so as to circumvent problems associated with anesthesia.

Cow Longevity

The herd life of a dairy cow is a lowly heritable trait. The total husbandry system determines the useful life of a cow in a dairy herd. The fact that cow longevity has declined over the years suggests that, although genetic merit for milk yield has continuously risen for many decades, necessary adjustments in nongenetic aspects of husbandry have not kept pace, and that overall cow state of being has decreased.


Dairy cows and bulls use their horns as tools of aggression. Cattle horns threaten the safety of group-mates and caretakers alike. Kept cattle should not have horns. In the interest of minimizing stress and residual effects, careful dehorning by any of several appropriate methods of horned individuals should be done when the animal is no more than 4 months of age. Local anesthesia should be employed for older cattle. Polled bulls may be used to sire naturally polled calves, but this approach has not been widely adopted.


Appropriate methods of euthanasia include gunshot and captive bolt, among others. The American Association of Bovine Practitioners issues and updates guidelines.

Free Stalls versus Tie (Stanchion) Stalls for Cows

Fifty years ago, keeping cows in tie or stanchion stalls during inclement weather and seasons was considered to be humanely protective, but no longer. However, although free stalls can offer several advantages relative to tie stalls in terms of cow state of being, each free-stall design and each farm is unique, and animal state of being may be compromised in certain cases. Needed resources (feed, water, and so on) must be adequately accessible to all cows in common areas; there must be an adequate number of stalls; the free stalls must be designed and maintained so as to comfortably and cleanly accommodate the cows.


Regardless of composition, floor surfaces on which cows and bulls must stand and walk should have a friction coefficient that minimizes slippage at the same time as it minimizes abrasion, and it should be kept as dry as possible. Broken legs can result from slips, injured feet from being abraded. Once an animal has slipped on a given floor, it will try to avoid that floor and will not exhibit normal social behavior.


Good management practice requires individual identification of dairy cattle. Today, means of identification other than hot-iron or freeze branding e.g., metal or plastic ear tags or neck-chain tags are recommended.


Lameness can result from a variety of situations. Any fraction of cows walking with an obvious limp that exceeds 10% indicates a compromise of animal state of being.

Nonambulatory Cattle

Cows become nonambulatory for a variety of reasons. The leading correlate of not being able to get up and walk is a lack of vigor that also is signaled by a body-condition score lower than 2.


Letting gestating and lactating cows graze on pasture has apparent advantages in terms of freedom of movement. It also has several drawbacks in terms of cow state of being: insect pests; being spooked and hassled by feral and wild canines; bloat; high energy expenditure sometimes associated with walking; toxic plants and soils; inadequate shelter from inclement weather, both summer and winter; and inadequate nutritional value of the pasture (especially for high-producing cows anytime or any cow around the time of peak lactation).

Reduction of Quality and Quantity of Individual Attention

Although milk yield per cow in the United States has tripled from what it was in 1950, labor per cow is around a third today of what it was then. This is due to changes in genetics, nutrition, milking facilities and procedures, and materials handling. But correlations between milk yield, cow health, and improved management techniques are highly positive, while those between herd size and cow state of being are neutral. New technology has freed progressive dairymen to devote more time to animal care per se.

Select Safety Factors

Sharp edges and protrusions in the cattle facility's construction members can injure cows, sometimes so as to reduce state of being and milk yield.

Separating Cow and Calf

So long as the newborn calf receives an adequate dose of colostrum, it can be separated from its dam during the first 24 postnatal hours without risking psychological harm. In most cases, cow calf bonding has occurred by 48 hours postnatum, and weaning any time after this is more stressful.

Genetically superior cows fed and cared for so as to promote very high productive performance are very fragile creatures in many ways. They are more likely to develop digestive and metabolic upsets, to suffer mastitis and other health problems, and to have more reproductive maladies. Such cows do require special care and management, and when they do not receive it, these cows' wellness is in jeopardy.

Tail Docking

In many herds, the tails of dairy cows are docked with the aim of increasing sanitary conditions at milking time, especially in milking facilities in which the milker approaches the cow's udder from the rear. As of now, there is no scientific justification for the practice,[3] and it is not recommended.


The state of being of dairy cattle is often reduced while the animals are being transported.[4] This is especially so for low-body-condition-score, sick, or injured animals.


Many changes have occurred in the biology and technology of milk production by dairy cows during the past half-century. Some of them have had implications for dairy cattle state of being. These issues have been and are being seriously addressed by scientists and milk producers alike.[5-8] Overall, the state of being of dairy cattle nowadays is better than it was 50 years ago.


Adaptation and Stress: Animal State of Being, p. 1


1. Albright, J.L.; Arave, C.W. The Behaviour of Cattle; CAB International: Wallingford, UK, 1997.

2. Keown, J.F. How to Body Condition Score Dairy Animals, NebGuide G 90 997 A; University of Nebraska Lincoln, 1991.

3. Stull, C.L.; Payne, M.A.; Perry, S.L.; Hullinger, P.J. Evaluation of the scientific justification for tail docking in dairy cattle. J. Dairy Sci. 2002, 220, 1298 1303.

4. Livestock Handling and Transport, 2nd Ed.; Grandin, T., Ed.; CAB International: Wallingford, UK, 2000.

5. Arave, C.W.; Albright, J.L. Dairy [Cattle Welfare]. Online at

6. Grandin, T. Outline of Cow Welfare Critical Control Points for Dairies (Revised September 2002). Online at http://

7. Guither, H.D.; Curtis, S.E. Welfare of Animals, Political and Management Issues. In Encyclopedia ofDairy Sciences; Roginski, H., Fuquay, J.W., Fox, P.W., Eds.; Academic Press: New York, 2003.

8. Stookey, J.M. Is intensive dairy production compatible with animal welfare? Adv. Dairy Technol. 1994, 6, 208 219.

H. Duane Norman Suzanne M. Hubbard

United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, Maryland, U.S.A.

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