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Dairy Cattle Standards

Better Choices dairy farmers recognise and comply with legislation in states and territories covering animal welfare and regulation of husbandry procedures, carefully considering all options to mitigate pain in their cattle.

For essential husbandry procedures, it is important that these are done correctly under veterinary supervision and/or in accordance with recognised industry guidelines.

Pain relief during routine husbandry procedures is now expected. One product is not enough: combined local anaesthetics and NSAIDs provide better relief. Local anaesthetics provide immediate relief but are short-acting; NSAIDs give longer duration relief but not for immediate pain.

It is important for dairy farmers to work with a veterinarian to determine which product will best serve each individual animal’s needs in order to achieve effective pain relief. A veterinarian can also help producers understand how long it takes for anaesthetic drug combinations to take effect and when it is safe for them to return animals back to their environment.

Better Choices primary producers must self certify that they have used used pain relief during surgical and non-surgical husbandry procedures, for all animals in their care, and identify their routine veterinarian and/or retail supplier of pain relief products.

If you have eliminated or conduct any of the following procedures and use any of the products listed below, then we want to recognise you as a Better Choices dairy producer!



Cattle can be naturally polled (no horns) and this can be introduced into a herd through selective breeding. For cattle that are not polled disbudding is a procedure that will destroy the horn producing cells of calves less than eight weeks of age. Horn buds should be removed as soon as they are seen and acceptable methods for disbudding calves of all breeds include application of caustic paste or an electric/gas hot iron. Both methods require proper training and oversight so that disbudding is complete and there is no horn growth. Caustic paste is appropriate for use in the first few days and under 2 weeks of age. After that time it can be messy, damange the calf, or inneffective at stopping horn growth and require a second procedure. Disbudding with caustic iron should be performed as soon as possible and prior to 6 weeks of age and no later than 8 weeks. In all cases considerations about pain and wound care are important.


Dehorning is the name for the surgical procedure in adult animals and is performed for the safety of people and other animals, and to prevent economic loss from damaged hides. In dairy cattle if the procedure is performed on horned cattle after 8 weeks of age it is considered surgical and painful. As cattle get older there is an increased blood flow and pain increasing the risks of the procedure, increases the risk of infection, and there is often a reduction in the effectiveness of pain relief medications. So it is important to ensure the process is avoided or done as early as possible and by a qualified and experienced individual.


In dairy cattle castration is a common practice used to manage male livestock to reduce agression and damage to individuals from fighting. It also makes the cattle easier to handle and allows mature males to remain in the herd after sexual maturity is reached. The two main methods of castrating cattle are surgical castration and banding with rubber rings. The younger the cattle are when castrated the less stress and pain they will experience. Appropriate pain relief and wound care should always be considered for castration.


Branding has been used on livestock for a number of years, mainly in the cattle industry, placing an identifying mark onto the animal’s hide with a branding iron, to indicate ownership and distinguish animals from one another. However, in many parts of the world, ear tags are now being used as an alternative to the long-time practice of branding. Ear tags are easier to apply and more humane for the calves, as they do not have to undergo the pain of a hot iron. They also provide information on the animal’s history and can be used in tracking and locating animals if they get lost or stolen.

Lameness and Mastitis

Dairy cattle are prone to other common painful events including masitis and lameness. Mastitis is an infection of the mammary tissue with various causation agents. It is treated with either intramammary or injectable antibiotics and benefts from the use of pain relief such as NSAIDs. Lameness occurs in dairy cattle as they are regularly walking on hard ground that can cause damage to their foot. When the condition is severe treatment should also use pain relief. In both conditions pain relief has been shown to have a positive impact for productivity.

Learn more about our other standards