Outline of cow welfare critical control points for dairies
(Revised September 2011)

Grandin Livestock Handling Systems
2918 Silver Flume Drive, Suite C3
Fort Collins, Colorado 80526
(970) 229-0703


This guideline uses a combination of three different types of standards. It emphasizes the use of animal based outcome standards. The European Union and the OIE (World Organization fo Animal Welfare) emphasize the use of animal based standards. The following standards in this guideline are animal based standards:

To ensure good dairy cows welfare, there are some practices that need to be prohibited. This is a second type of standard:

There is also a need for a few important input based or engineering/design, standards. Some important examples are:

On a dairy the three biggest animal welfare concerns are abuse of newborn calves, lameness and handling of downer non-ambulatory cows.

  1. Downer Non-Ambulatory Cattle - Dragging of non-ambulatory cows onto vehicles or along the ground is forbidden. The only exception of this rule would be dragging for a few feet to remove a cow that had fallen in the milking parlor. Non-ambulatory cattle that have a poor prognosis for recovery should be euthanized on the farm. This will motivate dairymen to prevent downers. Ninety percent of downers are preventable by either better management or genetic selection of cows for good feet and legs.
  2. Euthanasia - Permitted methods are gunshot, captive bolt or other methods that are approved by the American Association of Bovine Practitioner's.
  3. Lameness - Score lameness on a yes/no basis as cows walk out of the milking parlor. Score yes if the animal walks with an obvious limp and is still able to keep up with the herd. Five percent obvious limp is excellent. Over 10% of lactating cows with an obvious limp not acceptable. Lameness is caused by a combination of poor management and failure to select breeding stock with good feet and legs. Score 50 to 100 cows.
  4. Body Condition Score - Ninety percent of the lactating cows must have a body condition score of more than 2 and less than 3% with a score of less than 2. (See Elanco Body Scoring Chart for Dairy Cattle.) Cows in poor body condition are more likely to become non-ambulatory. A score of 2 is the minimum acceptable body condition score. The auditor should also look in the sick pen to find cattle which have been allowed to deteriorate to an unacceptable condition.
  5. Care of Newborn Calves - Calves must be fed colostrum within a few hours of birth. Calves must be dry and able to walk easily and stand without assistance from a person before they are transported off the premises. The only exception to this guideline is transport of calves to a local calf raising facility that is less than 2 hours away by road. Calves must be kept clean. There is a problem that needs to be corrected if over 5% of the calves are dirty.
  6. Non-Slip Flooring - Score 100 cows going through the milking parlor. Fail if 1% fall down.
  7. Clean Water - This is required for both welfare and food safety reasons.
  8. Dehorning - Calves should be dehorned before 4 months of age. Older calves will require an anesthetic for dehorning. (American Humane Assoc. 2000)
  9. The routine practice of tail docking should be discouraged (Stull, C.L. et al. 2002. J. Amer. Vet. Med. Assoc. Vol. 220: 1298-1303).
  10. Leg Lesion Scoring - Dairies with poorly managed free stalls (cubilcles) had significantly more swollen hocks (Fulwider et al., 2007. Journal of Dairy Science. 90: 3559-3566). Score a cow as yes for severe hock swelling if she has a swelling larger than a baseball (7.4 cm) on the worst leg. The percentage of cows with severely swollen hocks should not exceed 1%. Table 1 shows that dairies can easily achieve this standard.

    Table 1
    Percentage of cows on
    Well-being issue Best 20% of farms Second best 20% of farms/th> Middle 20% of farms Second worst 20% of farms Worst 20% of farms
    Hock hair loss only 0-10 10.6-20 20.8-35.8 36.2-54.4 56-96.1
    Hock swelling 0 0.7-1.7 1.9-4.2 4.2-11.9 7.4-12.5
    Severe swellinga 0 0 0 0-1.5 1.8-10.7
    Dirty cowsb 0-5 5.3-9.8 10.3-15.4 16.8-28.9 29.4-100
    Thigh lesions 0 0 0 0 0-28.8

    aCows were rated on having a severe swelling if the worst leg had a swelling more than 7.4 cm (size of a baseball) in diameter or open or oozing injuries. bCows were rated as dirty if there was dried or wet manure on their body, belly, udder or upper portions of the leg.

  11. Ammonia Levels in Housing - 10 ppm is the goal. 25 ppm is the maximum.

  12. Hygiene Scoring - Score each cow for cleanliness using a four point scoring system:

    1. Clean cow - May have soil below the knees
    2. Soiled legs
    3. Soiled legs, belly, and udder
    4. Soiled legs, belly, and udder, and sides of the body.


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Click here to get more information on T. Grandin (2009) Improving Animal Welfare: A Practical Approach, CABI Publishing..