There have been increases in the number of organic dairy farms in the UK in recent years. However, there is little information on the impact of organic regulations on cow welfare. As part of a larger study, we aimed to investigate differences between organic and non-organic farms in management practices and winter housing quality. Forty organic and 40 non-organic farms throughout the UK were visited. Organic and non-organic farms were paired for housing type, and as far as possible for herd size, genetic merit and location. A detailed questionnaire covering key aspects of dairy management was carried out with each farmer. On a subset of twenty pairs, an assessment of the quality of the winter housing for both lactating and dry cows was undertaken, covering the parlour, bedding, loafing and feeding areas. Management practices and building conditions varied greatly within farm types and there was considerable overlap between organic and non-organic farms. Milk yield, level and composition of concentrate feed, management of heifers and calving, and use of alternative treatments to prevent and treat mastitis differed between organic and non-organic farms. In all other respects there were no differences between farm types. Building dimensions per cow did not differ, even though organic recommendations advise greater space per cow than recommended for non-organic farms. The similarity between organic and non-organic farms in most respects indicates that cow housing and health, based on both the described management regimes and the farmers' perceptions of disease incidence, on organic dairy farms is neither compromised by the regulations, nor considerably better than on non-organic farms.
- Dairy cow