In this Research Communication we analyse the animal welfare status of dairy farms located in southern Spain and test the hypothesis that monitoring of wellbeing could increase the profitability of dairy herds by improving indices of reproduction. Twenty dairy farms were visited and a total of 1650 cows were assessed using the Welfare Quality® (WQ) protocol to determine their welfare status. These farms were selected as representatives of the main types of dairy farms found in the south of Spain. No farms attained a welfare status of ‘excellent’, but all obtained an adequate score for most parameters. Feeding assessment showed relatively low variability among farms, whereas housing and health assessments exhibited high variability. Significant correlations were found between a number of welfare parameter pairings: between percentage of collisions and time needed to lie down; between cleanliness of water points and cleanliness of various animal parts; between farms with access to an outdoor loafing area and an inadequate body condition score and with animal cleanliness; between the frequency of animals lying partly or completely outside of the lying area and the percentage of integument alterations and finally between the presence of respiratory problems and farm hygiene parameters. Furthermore, significant correlations between welfare parameters, reproductive indices and milk production were found. The percentage of cows exhibiting an inadequate body condition score and farms where cows took longer to lie down were correlated with the calving-first insemination interval. Animals showing a higher incidence of coughing and hampered respiration presented lower heat detection rates and milk production and finally farms with dirtier animals had lower milk production. This study is the first step towards including welfare in the recording of routine data in dairy cattle farms in southern Spain.
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