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The final results of a survey on welfare of dairy cows in 7 Italian Regions are presented. The study has been performed on 943 farms in southern and central Italy to highlight critical and strong points concerning animal welfare in dairy systems, by using direct and indirect criteria. To assess animal welfare, a checklist based on 303 parameters has been used; indirect criteria have been organised in 5 general areas concerning Farm management, Farming and housing systems, Environment, Feeding, Health and hygiene; other resource-based criteria were considered in 5 specific areas for the different productive categories (lactating cows, dry cows, pregnant heifers, cows comeback, calves up to 8 weeks and calves between 8 weeks and 6 months); finally, an Indicators section focused on animal based criteria. Parameters have been valued as conforming or not conforming on the basis of the current lesgislation on animal welfare, and in the other cases by the use of a semi-quantitative scale such as poor, satisfactory, good or very good referring to scientific literature and reports by the Animal Health and Animal Welfare panel of the European Food Safety Authority. Among the 249 examined parameters (54 criteria have been valued as descriptive), 15 showed a failure prevalence inferior to 1%; for the remaining parameters, the overall non-compliance prevalence on the whole sample ranged from a maximum of 67% to a minimum of 2%, showing an inverse proportionality correlation with the herd size. One hundred and ten parameters were judged as poor (96) or not in compliance with the rules in force (14) in more than 10% of the examined herds. The most common non-compliance aspects detected in the different areas concern calves management, staff training and prophylaxis programmes; staff training levels were inversely related to failure prevalences in almost all areas. The combination of direct and indirect criteria has allowed to fully embrace recommendations on the use of animal based measures for the assessment of animal welfare, as accepted into the strategic Plan for the EU animal welfare for 2012- 2015.
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