Assessing welfare against progressive standards on continuously housed dairy herds in Britain

41110069: Assessing welfare against progressive standards on continuously housed dairy herds in Britain


Although Britain operates some of the highest dairy cattle welfare standards, there is opportunity to go further in certain areas. The GB story in relation to welfare can be promoted to position and sell our products. One unique selling point both at home and abroad is the high standards of animal welfare and an inherent trust in British standards.

Our society values cattle having access to the outdoors and continuously housed farms are frequently criticised for not doing so. Currently, the most common allegations levelled at continuously housed farms are poor welfare and that animals cannot behave naturally. It is likely that consumers will continue to see this type of management, no matter how good, as unnatural. Therefore, it is necessary to establish high quality, independent, robust and reliable data as soon as possible to support these farms. These data could also be used as a benchmark for which to measure future years’ progress.

Specialists often argue that the public’s concern and in some cases rejection of continuous housing is a lack of understanding of the industry and/or science and that this knowledge deficit can be overcome by educating the public. Education is an unlikely solution to this scenario. Instead, we should consider viewing this as not just a risk management issue but as a potential source of competitive advantage that maybe a central component of building the ‘proud of dairy’ brand. We can opt to take a proactive approach and create progressive standards for dairy farming.

An important aspect of this is to communicate the benefits of diversity of production and in no way criticise any other production methods, but to promote the particular strengths of what this group of continuously housed farmers are doing.

Purpose/Primary Objective

The AHDB wish to commission research and knowledge exchange that will independently assess continuously housed dairy farms against a progressive set of sustainable standards. Specifically;

  • Measure welfare outcomes focusing on survivability (rate of no-economic value losses of cows and calves), disease (including use of antibiotics), mobility, environmental comfort (e.g. injury and cleanliness), nutrition, behaviour and calf management (including bull calf policy)

  • Benchmark farms

  • Capture creative solutions and innovations on farm


This progressive standard will not be specific about how the farm business should run, the system the cows are kept in or what the facilities look like but instead focus on the health and mental well-being of the dairy cattle, and how the farm assures responsible management.

All metrics to be included in this standard will be based on a weight of scientific evidence with thresholds set to not only the highest level in GB but, potentially, in the world. The standard will be independently audited, with every cow examined, to ensure these farmers really are delivering on their commitment.

Initial prevalence data will set benchmarks to use within industry, showing what is achievable commercially

Minimum expectations

  • Convene a stakeholder group to help steer and direct the delivery of this project in collaboration with AHDB

  • As part of a previous industry project, a sustainable standard has been drafted (Appendix 1), this will need to be updated and refined by the successful supplier

  • Compile a list of continuously housed dairy farms in collaboration with the stakeholder group and AHDB

  • Recruit at least 20 continuously housed dairy farms with GB geographical coverage

  • Benchmark the farms against the progressive standard

  • Provide a detailed description of farmer recruitment process and how problems such as farmers exiting the project would be overcome

  • Provide a detailed description of what additional data could be provided and how this could be incorporated into a representative sample

  • Provide details of resources available and demonstrate ability to complete the work to a high standard and within the specified timescale

  • Provide breakdown of costs in meeting the brief given. Costs not stated in submitted proposals will not be considered after the contract is awarded.

Key outputs:

  • The findings, conclusions and at least four case studies from the research should be presented as a comprehensive report by 31 May 2019 to the AHDB Dairy project manager

  • An anonymised dataset provided to AHDB Dairy project manager by 31 May 2019

  • Excellent knowledge exchanges is a key component of this project. Demonstration of novel and innovative types of delivery will be anticipated, for example, use of webinars, social media, YouTube clips alongside formal reports, case studies and articles.

  • Presentation of the key findings to an industry stakeholder audience

Collaboration and co-sponsorship

AHDB may, if it is deemed desirable, request applicants to form a project consortium. Priority will be given to applicants with cash and/or in kind funding from alternative funding bodies or commercial partners.

Budget and duration

A maximum budget of £49,000 (excluding VAT, but inclusive of contractor T&S) has been allocated for this project, which has a 6 month duration. Please note this is a ceiling, not an indicative price. Applicants will be able to advise on the costs of their proposed work and should calculate and provide the costs attached to their proposal. AHDB reserves the right to consider budget limits and constraints when assessing submissions and may choose not to make an award if submitted ideas prove unaffordable.

The contract is expected to run for six months from 1 December 2018 until 31 May 2019 with the option to extend which will be done by mutual agreement between parties for a further seven months up to 31 December 2019.

AHDB Dairy reserves the right to ask proposers to combine project ideas and resubmit revised joint proposals. Applicants may choose to withdraw if they do not wish to pursue this and AHDB Dairy will not divulge to other parties (other than as described above) the content of any applications without the permission of the applicant.

Completion and submission of the application form

Applicants should complete the AHDB Research and KE Application Form – Full Proposal Smallreferring to the guidance notes to aid completion. 

Completed forms must be emailed to  no later than 12.00 noon on 14 November 2018.  Applicants will be informed of the outcome of the assessment within two weeks of the submission deadline, any such communication is subject to contractual terms being agreed.

Terms and Conditions of Contract

Applications are made on the basis of the AHDB Research Funding Agreement and any organisation receiving funding shall comply with the terms and conditions specified in the RFA. AHDB will not be held responsible for any expenses or losses incurred by applicants in the preparation of an application(s). A schedule for review meetings will be agreed during contract negotiations. Tenderers are advised to familiarise themselves with these Terms and Conditions prior to submitting the proposal.

Proposed timings for application and project delivery

Stage of process


Call published

8 October 2018

Full proposal submission deadline

14 November 2018

Applicants informed of the outcome

28 November 2018

Anticipated start date

1 December 2018

Project duration

Six months (ending 31 May 2019)


If you have specific questions related to this call, please email As part of this open tender process, AHDB cannot discuss specific project details with you before submitting your proposal. Answers to specific questions will be posted on AHDBs procurement webpage. View the Questions and Answers for this Research call.

Assessment criteria

Please note that the assessment criteria have been slightly altered for this tender, and are detailed below. The contract will be awarded to the most advantageous quotation, based on a combination of price, value for money, quality of the proposal in relation to requirements and expected outcomes, relevant technical knowledge, and track record in successful management/delivery of this kind of project.  

Project Title: Assessing welfare against progressive standards on continuously housed dairy herds in Britain




Beneficiaries appropriately identified. Novel approaches to deliver industry KE and links to existing AHDB KE activities. Appropriateness and clarity of industry engagement. Timeframe qualified to deliver project outputs and impact. Clarification over additional activities/resource required to deliver impact. Clear IP exploitation plan where relevant. 0-10 score; weighting of 3



Score:        x3 =


Clarity of aims, objectives, approach and milestone schedule. Appropriateness and robustness of methodology proposed to meet the objectives including data management processes and/or accreditation. Effective collaborations (if relevant) and how these will be managed. Management of feasibility and risks that may prevent or delay achievement of the project outputs. Project management structure and responsibilities clearly defined. 0-10 score; weighting of 4



Score:        x4 =


Knowledge, expertise and track record of relevant staff conducting the data collection, in relation to meeting the objectives of the project. Quality of past contributions to, and impact on, the topic. Potential to bring added value through current and/or past contributions. Complementarities of expertise of the team and role of collaboration organisations (if relevant) clearly defined. 0-10 score; weighting of 1



Score:        x1 =


Are costs reasonable and necessary? Will the total budget be adequate to carry out the proposed activities? Added value of co-funding? 0-10 score; weighting of 2



Score:        x2 =

Total Score            out of 100   (Threshold = 50)

Recommend for Funding           Yes / No

Appendix 1


Measured by



1. Cow Mortality 

‘No Economic Value (NEV)’ losses, meaning on-farm mortality + those removed from the herd with no economic value (defined by condemn-ed carcases) on a rolling basis.

A high level of survivability and low levels of NEV culls is indicative of good underlying health and welfare and/or management.




2. Calf


The proportion of heifer calves that die between 24 hours and 6 months of age on a rolling basis. *NB this does not include farms that do not breed and retain their own heifer replacements

Youngstock survivability and management are key but often overlooked aspects of overall herd health and welfare




3. Mobility


% of herd sound, ie scoring 0&1 on AHDB Dairy mobility score on a rolling basis.

Lameness is one of the most costly yet preventable welfare issues in the UK dairy herd. It is an indicator of poor health & welfare and sub-optimum level of management.




4. Udder Health 


a) Number of clinical cases (defined as requiring antibiotic treatment or culled) per 100 cows per year on a rolling basis

b) Herd average bulk somatic cell counts on a rolling basis

Minimising mastitis reduces the incidence of a major health & welfare issue in the UK dairy herd and manages a significant cost in terms of lost production, treatment and replacement costs.

a) <20, 20-40, >40

b) <150, 150-200, >200

5. Pregnancy Rate


Pregnancy rate – % cows submitted for service from those who should be ready for service x conception rate.

Fertility is a key indicator of a herd’s underlying health status as it is one of the first things impacted during periods of stress or illness; also measures efficiency of identifying cows in season.





6. Nutritional


% of cows scoring within the recommended levels at different stages of lactation, on a rolling basis

BCS will indicate whether nutritional requirements are being met, group size & cow flow are being managed, and stocking densities are appropriate.



90-95%, <90%


7. Environmental Welfare

a) % cows scoring 0 or 1 (0-2 scale) for substantial swellings

b) % cows scoring 0 or 1 (0-2 scale) for layered dried dirt on udder, legs or flank.

c) Confidence of walking – Cow Signals

a)-b) Indicates ability of facilities to provide comfortable conditions.

c) Signifies suitability of the walking and standing areas in minimising slips and falls.

a) >98%, 95-98%, <95%

b) >98%, 95-98%, <95%

c) XX

8. Social and emotional comfort

a) i) % of cows mid lactation that can be touched; ii) % of cows in mid lactation that cannot be approached

b) Frequency of displacement/cow/hour during peak feeding & lying

c) Level of socialisation/ mutual grooming


a) Approachability is a sign of good stockmanship and a positive emotional state

b) Overstocking means heightened competition for feed, water and beds, and increased slips and falls.

c) Mutual grooming signifies a positive emotional state


a) i) >30%, 20-30%; <20%

ii) <5%, 5-15%; >15% 

b) <0.25, 0.25-0.5; >0.5% 

c) XXX

9. Resource efficiency

a) Carbon footprint per litre of milk produced, as measured on the ECO2 methodology

b) Water consumption per litre of milk produced

Resource efficiency indicates how efficient or wasteful the business is. Water and energy consumption are the two most commonly measured resources

a) <800, 800-1000; >1000g/kg milk

b) <4, 4-4.5; >4.5litres/ litre milk