Welfare of Cull Dairy Cows

July 3, 2018


The CVMA opposes prolonged transport of compromised cull dairy cows because they have an increased likelihood of suffering when exposed to transport related stressors. The CVMA supports on-farm animal welfare-based cow culling decisions and the national standardization of dairy cow best management practices.


  • Dairy producers bear the primary responsibility for appropriate culling decisions, and should work directly with their herd veterinarian to develop a farm-specific culling strategy.
  • Co-operation among producers, herd veterinarians, transporters, processors and cattle marketers is essential to limit welfare risks to cull dairy cows before and after they are removed from the farm.
  • Emphasis needs to be placed on culling animals before they become compromised and at a higher risk of transport related deterioration.
  • Although dairy cows are commonly culled in good condition, many culled dairy cows have pre-existing physical limitations and health conditions that may compromise their welfare during transport and increase the risk of transport-related injury and suffering.
  • Producers and veterinarians need to be aware of the potential for multiple journeys and routes as cull dairy cows are moved between auction markets and to slaughter.
  • Cull dairy cows must be assessed for fitness prior to each intended journey and only transported and auctioned if determined to be able to tolerate the intended processes without suffering. Cull dairy cows require an evaluation and may require extra precautions prior to and during each transport.
  • When needed, alternatives to routine marketing through auction markets include transport direct to local slaughter, on-farm slaughter, mobile slaughter, or on-farm euthanasia.
  • The CVMA strongly recommends that dairy farmers and veterinarians develop specific on-farm protocols to optimize the welfare of cull dairy cows and encourages Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) to continue to develop, enhance, and implement effective on-farm animal welfare programs to improve the well-being of all dairy cattle.


  1. Dairy cows that are considered to be of low or reduced economic value are removed (culled) from the herd for a variety of reasons including reproductive issues (e.g., fertility), low milk production, mastitis, lameness, and other forms of ill-health (1-4). Cull dairy cows may be in poor condition and as such may be at greater risk of suffering during standard transport and marketing practices (1,5). The ability of the cull cow to cope with the handling and transport needed to reach the chosen destination, (e.g., direct to slaughter or via an auction market), will vary depending on her age, condition, fitness (6) and the conditions under which the transport occurs.
  2. Suffering is more likely to occur if the journey is prolonged, if the transport conditions are not optimal or if the animal is moved multiple times. The longer animals spend in transport, the greater the likelihood that they will become lame, non- ambulatory, otherwise suffer, or die (6,7).
  3. During transport and marketing, cull dairy cows can be exposed to multiple stressors such as mustering, loading and confinement, along with exposure to unfamiliar animals, people, noise, surroundings and movements. As a result, the condition of cull dairy cows with even minor health issues such as a mild reduction in appetite or a mild lameness can deteriorate during transport (8).
  4. Despite improvements to cull cow management, some cull dairy cows arrive at markets in a poor state of health, in poor body condition, as non-ambulatory (i.e., “downer”) and/or showing signs of pain. Downer cows are often a result of management practices which don’t prioritize early culling (9) and which can result in debilitated animals; however other factors such as lameness or trauma can also cause cows to become downers. Some downer cows require immediate euthanasia to limit their suffering and/or dying during the journey to or from the auction market (10).
  5. Most cull dairy cows are purchased at auction markets by processing plants; however a significant number are purchased for further marketing (11). A clear understanding of the marketing plan and agreement for continuity of care for the cull dairy cow between producers, herd veterinarians, and cattle marketers is essential to maximize animal welfare.
  6. The CVMA encourages producers to closely monitor their dairy herds and work closely with their herd veterinarians to cull cows prior to their being at risk during transport. Veterinarians have a responsibility to promote the humane treatment of animals and have a key role in educating their clients on the selection of animals which are fit for transport (12). Industry acknowledges that producers should ensure that any cull dairy cow transported to an auction market is in good health (13).
  7. When needed, options to consider other than standard marketing, include transport direct to local slaughter (10,14), on-farm emergency slaughter (15), mobile slaughter (16), or euthanasia on site.
  8. Producers and veterinarians are encouraged to consult guidance information such as Ontario Farm Animal Council (OFAC) “Caring for Compromised Cattle” 2010 (17) and associated links (18,19), and the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) “Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle (2009)” (20), and must be aware of federal and provincial legislation on fitness for transport, and the requirements for compromised and unfit animals (14,21,22).
  9. The CVMA supports the continued development and use of materials by stakeholder groups such as DFC Pro-Action (23) to assist producers, veterinarians, and all those involved in the transport and marketing of cull dairy cows, to make decisions on cull cows based on maximizing cow welfare. Other producer associations, all levels of government, and other key stakeholders are encouraged to develop and distribute training materials (15,19,20) to assist all producers and veterinarians in adopting a standardized and welfare-based approach to dairy cow culling decisions.


  1. Bovey K, Lawlis P, Draper M, Widowski T. (2009, May).The Health and Welfare of Cull Cows in Ontario. Poster presented at the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON. Available from: 
  2. Government of Alberta, 2000. Alberta feedlot management guide: Economics and marketing. Available from: https://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex3686 Last accessed May 30, 2018.
  3. Government of Canada, 2015. Culling rate and replacement rate in dairy herds in Canada. Available from: http://www.dairyinfo.gc.ca/pdf/genetics-cull_e.pdf Last accessed April 27, 2017.
  4. Government of Canada. Canadian Dairy Information Centre (2015). Culling and replacement rates in dairy herds in Canada. Number of farms, dairy cows and heifers. Available from: http://www.dairyinfo.gc.ca/index_e.php?s1=dff-fcil&s2=mrr-pcle&s3=cr-tr Last accessed April 27, 2017.
  5. Bovey K, Lawlis P, Draper M, Widowski T. The health and welfare of cull cows in Ontario. Unpublished data, 2008.
  6. González LA, Schwartzkopf-Genswein KS, Bryan M, Silasi R, Brown F. Relationships between transport conditions and welfare outcomes during commercial long haul transport of cattle in North America. J Anim Sci 2012;90:3640-3651. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22665659 Last accessed May 30, 2018.
  7. Schwartzkopf-Genswein K. Are you doing your best at transporting cull dairy cows to market? WCDS Advances in Dairy Technology 2015; 27:259-271. Available from: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4391/0d690d7bf440a7f88137e005ffd16ad2e1d2.pdf  Last accessed May 30, 2018.
  8. Broom DM. The effects of land transport on animal welfare. Rev Sci Tech Off Int Epiz 2005;24:683-691. Available from: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/a9aa/e2b901be80b5a25215815905a7f88a87b961.pdf Last accessed May 30, 2018.
  9. Grandin T. Perspectives on transportation issues: The importance of having physically fit cattle and pigs. J Anim Sci 2001;79:E201-E207. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/jas/article-abstract/79/suppl_E/E201/4626037?redirectedFrom=PDF Last accessed May 30, 2018.
  10. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Draper M. Data: unpublished communication; 2015.
  11. Dubé C, Ribble C, Kelton D. An analysis of the movement of dairy cattle through 2 large livestock markets in the province of Ontario, Canada. Can Vet J 2010;51:1254-1260. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2957034/ Last accessed May 30, 2018.
  12. Doonan G, Benard G, Cormier N. Livestock and poultry fitness for transport — The veterinarian’s role. Can Vet J 2014;55:589-590. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4022031/ Last accessed May 30, 2018.
  13. Milk producer: Dairy Update Nov 2014. Available from: http://www.milk.org/Corporate/MilkProducer/mpArchivedEditions.aspx Last accessed May 31, 2017.
  14. Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Transportation of Animals Program, Compromised Animals Policy. Available from: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals/humane-transport/compromised-animals-policy/eng/1360016317589/1360016435110 Last accessed April 27, 2017.
  15. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Your Responsibilities Under The Meat Regulation. Available from: http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/food/inspection/meatinsp/resp-under-meat.htm Last accessed April 28, 2017.
  16. Government of Alberta. Livestock slaughter and processing in Alberta. Available from: http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/4h8346 Last accessed April 27, 2017.
  17. Ontario Farm Animal Council, 2010. Caring for Compromised Cattle. Available from: http://www.livestockwelfare.com/wp-content/uploads/Caring-for-Compromised-Cattle-July-20101.pdf Last accessed April 28, 2017.
  18. Ontario Farm and Food Care. Farm animal care resources [resource page on Internet] Available from: http://www.farmfoodcareon.org/farm-animal-care/resources/ Last accessed April 28, 2017.
  19. Valacta. Dairy Knowledge: Documents for webinar 1. Practical Guide to Evaluating and Improving Comfort in the Barn; Lameness Information and Evaluation Factsheet Available from: http://dairyknowledge.ca/documents/ Last accessed May 2, 2017.
  20. National Farm Animal Care Council Dairy Code of Practice 2009. (Tools for assessing fitness). Appendix E - Body Condition Scoring Chart; Appendix F – Gait scoring system for dairy cows; Appendix G – Guidelines for dealing with compromised cattle; Appendix H – Should this animal be loaded? Available from: http://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/dairy-cattle Last accessed April 28, 2017.
  21. Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Provincial and territorial legislation concerning farm animal welfare. Available from: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals/humane-transport/provincial-and-territorial-legislation/eng/1358482954113/1358483058784 Last accessed April 27, 2017.
  22. Government of Canada. Justice Laws Website. Health of Animals Regulations Part Xll. Available from:
  23. Dairy Farmers of Canada. [Proaction homepage on Internet]. Available from: https://www.dairyfarmers.ca/proaction Last accessed April 28, 2017.