The premise of AWI's humane farm husbandry program is that animals must enjoy sound physical and psychological health in environments that permit constructive expression of natural behaviors. Housing and management should consider the biological and behavioral characteristics of the animal and include sufficient space and opportunity for performing self-protective (e.g., avoiding pain or injury), self-maintenance (e.g., grooming), and other important behaviors (e.g., care of young and social interaction). Animals should be free from pain, fear, hunger and thirst, discomfort, disease, and distress.
Small family-owned and operated dairy farms, where cows are traditionally released from straw-bedded barns to graze on green pastures as soon as Spring weather allows, are disappearing from the American landscape. Mega-dairies confine thousands of cows on concrete and dirt lots year-round, using bovine growth hormone and manipulating genetics to force higher milk production, and creating new animal welfare problems in the process.
The Animal Welfare Institute's forthcoming Humane Dairy Cattle Husbandry Standards require that the animals graze pasture in season, have freedom of movement when sheltered from inclement weather, be provided straw or similar suitable bedding to protect the animal from a hard or abrasive resting surface and to help keep the animals clean. Shipping newborn calves to auctions or other farms, tail-docking, electric cow trainers, tie stalls or stanchions, and administration of bovine growth hormone and non-therapeutic administration of antibiotics are prohibited.
AWI's protocol addresses the need to preserve family-owned and operated dairies characterized by high welfare standards. This form of agriculture tends to preserve the identity and value of individual members of the herd and avoids the growing dependence of dairy operators on the cheapest unskilled hired labor available.