The welfare of an animal relates primarily to its ability to cope, firstly with its external environment, such as housing, handing by humans, weather and the presence of other animals, and secondly with its internal environment, such as specific injuries or illnesses and nutritional status. Direct animal measurements are good indicators of animals’ current well-being and help identify longer term animal welfare problems. These should integrate long term consequences of past husbandry practices, be non-intrusive, and free from observer bias. Many welfare protocols are based on the five “basic freedoms” for good animal welfare, namely freedom from hunger and thirst, discomfort, pain, fear and distress and freedom to express normal behaviour. To be objective, welfare indicators need to be quantifiable and scientifically based. This review presents a list of key performance indicators of stock welfare specifically relevant to tropical small holder dairy farms. They can be separated into six different categories, such as nutrition, reproduction, disease, external appearance, environmental injury and behaviour. The review also presents a standard approach for estimating an animal welfare index well suited to the thousands of smallholder dairy farmers throughout tropical Asia.
Key words: Dairy cattle, welfare protocols, tropics, small holder welfare index.
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