Changes in Dairy Industry Benefit Dairy Cattle Health and Welfare and Consumers

The dairy industry is increasing food production in a sustainable manner while meeting consumers’ expectations for improved health and well-being of dairy animals, say experts in Journal of Dairy Science®

Philadelphia, PA, September 22, 2015

Profound changes in the dairy industry in recent decades have benefited the health and welfare of dairy cows, as well as consumers. A team of dairy science experts provides valuable insights into these changes, as well as the science behind them, and also identify knowledge gaps and further research needs. Their review is published in the current issue of the Journal of Dairy Science®.

“Economic pressures, technological innovations, demographic shifts, consumer expectations, and an evolving regulatory framework have all contributed to the impetus for changes in the global dairy industry,” explained lead investigator Herman Barkema, DVM, PhD, Professor, Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases and NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Infectious Diseases of Dairy Cattle, Department of Production Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, at the University of Calgary, Canada. “These changes have had, and will likely continue to have, profound effects on the health and welfare of dairy cows and on management practices and systems for dairy herds.”

Barkema and colleagues examined the key changes taking place in the dairy industry in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, the implications of which are relevant for the dairy industry in most developed and developing nations.

The main trends they describe are:

  • Decrease in the number of farms, whereas herd size has increased
  • Increasing number of dairy farms depending on hired (nonfamily) labor
  • Regular professional communication and establishment of farm-specific protocols essential to minimize human error and ensure consistency of practices
  • Increasing average milk production per cow, partly because of improvements in nutrition and management, but also because of genetic selection for milk production
  • Rapid adoption of new technologies (e.g., automated calf feeders, cow activity monitors, and automated milking systems)
  • Increasing requirement for farmers to adopt higher standards for food safety and biosecurity, become less reliant on the use of antimicrobials and hormones, and provide assurances regarding animal welfare, in order to remain compliant with regulations and competitive
  • Increasing herd size and response to animal welfare regulations in some countries, which together have led to a decrease in the proportion of dairy herds housed in tie stalls
  • In countries that traditionally practiced seasonal grazing, fewer farmers now let their dairy cows graze in the summer
  • Increase in the proportion of organic dairy farms globally, particularly in Europe

The authors identify several opportunities that these changes offer for the future:

  • Given the pressure to decrease the use of antimicrobials and hormones, conventional farms may be able to learn from well-managed organic farms.
  • Increased adoption of new technologies will enable farmers to have access to rich data sources that can aid in further improving animal health and welfare. Because the potential is still largely unrealized, more training of dairy farmers, their employees, and their advisors is necessary.
  • Genetic and genomic selection for increased resistance to disease offers substantial potential although this requires collection of additional phenotypic data.

“The possibilities of using milk for disease diagnostics and monitoring are considerable. We expect that dairy herd improvement associations will continue to expand the number of tests offered to diagnose diseases and pregnancy,” added Professor Barkema. “There is every expectation that changes in the dairy industry will be further accentuated and additional novel technologies and different management practices will be adopted in the future.”

“The take-home message is that the dairy industry is changing to meet consumers’ expectations for improved health and well-being of dairy animals, while at the same time increasing food production in a sustainable manner. The solution is not to turn back the hands of time, but instead combine advanced technologies with modern production practices,” commented Matt Lucy, PhD, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Dairy Science, and Professor of Animal Science, University of Missouri, USA.


Notes for Editors
“Changes in the dairy industry affecting dairy cattle health and welfare,” by H.W. Barkema, M.A.G. von Keyserlingk, J.P. Kastelic, T.J.G.M. Lam, C. Luby, J.-P. Roy, S.J. LeBlanc, G.P. Keefe, and D.F. Kelton (DOI:, Journal of Dairy Science, published online in advance of Volume 98, Issue 11 (November 2015) by Elsevier.

Full text of this article is available to credentialed journalists upon request. Contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 238 3628 or to obtain copies. Journalists wishing to set up interviews with the authors should contact Collene Ferguson, Manager, Marketing and Communications, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary, at 403-210-6615 or

About Journal Of Dairy Science®
Journal of Dairy Science (JDS), official journal of the American Dairy Science Association, is co-published by Elsevier and FASS Inc. for the American Dairy Science Association. It is the leading general dairy research journal in the world. JDS readers represent education, industry, and government agencies in more than 70 countries with interests in biochemistry, breeding, economics, engineering, environment, food science, genetics, microbiology, nutrition, pathology, physiology, processing, public health, quality assurance, and sanitation. JDS has a 5-year Impact Factor of 3.071 according to the 2014 Journal Citation Reports®, published by Thomson Reuters.

About The American Dairy Science Association (ADSA)
The American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) is an international organization of educators, scientists, and industry representatives who are committed to advancing the dairy industry and keenly aware of the vital role the dairy sciences play in fulfilling the economic, nutritive, and health requirements of the world's population. It provides leadership in scientific and technical support to sustain and grow the global dairy industry through generation, dissemination, and exchange of information and services. Together, ADSA members have discovered new methods and technologies August that have revolutionized the dairy industry.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions — among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Research Intelligence and ClinicalKey— and publishes over 2,500 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and more than 35,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a world-leading provider of information and analytics for professional and business customers across industries.

Media contact
Eileen Leahy
+1 732 238 3628

Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
American Dairy Science Association®
+1 630 237 4961