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1. Qualifying for the Basic Payment Scheme and cross-compliance
If you’re involved in the Basic Payment Scheme, you need to follow cross-compliance regulations.
To meet cross compliance welfare standards for cattle you need to follow the current Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs):
- SMR 4 - food and feed law (formerly SMR 11)
- SMR 5 - restrictions on the use of substances having hormonal or thyrostatic action and beta-agonists in farm animals (formerly SMR 10)
- SMR 11 - welfare of calves (formerly SMR 16)
- SMR 13 - animal welfare (formerly SMR 18)
The guide to cross-compliance explains what you need to do to follow each SMR.
2. Stockmanship and managing cattle
Stock-keepers should be competent in a wide range of animal health and welfare skills, including:
- handling skills
- ear tagging
- preventing and treating basic or common causes of lameness
- preventing and treating internal and external parasites
- administering medicines
- caring for sick and injured cattle
- removing supernumerary (extra) teats
2.1 Inspecting cattle
You should inspect your herd at least once a day and have enough lighting to do so.
You should check for signs of ill health, which include:
- separation from the group
- unusual behaviour
- loss of body condition
- loss of appetite
- a sudden fall in milk yield
- scouring (diarrhoea)
- not cudding
- any discharge from the nostrils or eyes
- producing more saliva than usual
- persistent coughing
- rapid or irregular breathing
- abnormal resting behaviour
- swollen joints
- lameness (beef and followers, dairy)
You should judge the type and condition of any track you move cattle along. Your assessment should include the condition of:
- the areas surrounding water troughs
Make sure that any concrete floors and walkways have a non-slip surface which doesn’t cause too much abrasion or pressure on the animal’s feet.
2.3 Handling pens
Handling pens should protect the animals from extreme weather and be the right size and scale for the type and number of animals in the herd.
You should keep all pens, races (narrow passageways), crushes (restraining gates to aid handling) and floors in good condition. You should make sure that they’re free from any sharp edges or projections that can injure cattle.
Races should be gently curved rather than have right-angled bends wherever possible.
2.4 Marking cattle
All cattle must be permanently identified by an official ear tag in each ear. Ear tags must be fitted by a properly trained and competent operator. This is so that the animal does not suffer any unnecessary pain or distress - either when the tags are fitted or later.
You must properly restrain the animals when fitting ear tags.
For temporary markings you should only use non-toxic aerosols or paints.
Clipping (trimming the hair of cattle) should only be carried out by someone experienced, competent and trained in clipping techniques.
You should make plans for disruption of supplies (for example, no electricity for milking machines) and dealing with emergencies like fire or flood for housed livestock. Include details of how you’ll move your animals off site in an emergency and make sure your staff have read the plan.
2.7 Condition scoring
Condition scoring is a technique used for judging the body condition of livestock at regular intervals.
See how to:
3. Managing dairy cows
You should introduce dairy heifers to the adult herd at least 4 weeks before calving. This gives heifers time to get used to their new and unfamiliar surroundings (including the milking parlour).
You should offer cows more than you expect them to eat each day to allow for cows to eat as much forage as they want. But when you give concentrated dry feeds on their own to dairy cows, you should normally limit it to no more than 4kg in any one feed. This reduces the risk of rumen acidosis (too much grain in the rumen leading to digestive problems) and other health problems.
Make sure that the animals have enough to eat by making alternative feeds freely available at all times.
You should never leave lactating dairy cows unmilked or with over-full udders. Anyone who milks cows - including relief milkers - needs to be fully competent to perform all milking operations.
Formal training should be given to milkers, which includes being fully supervised by competent, trained operators.
You should minimise the amount of time cows have to wait to be milked. The standings should be large enough for the size of cattle being milked and for cows to enter and leave the milking parlour easily, with a minimum of stress.
The entrance and exit areas of the milking parlour, where animals will tend to collect, should be wide enough for the animals to move easily on non-slip floors.
Any automatic backing gates in collection yards should be designed to encourage dairy cows to move towards the parlour, without causing them any distress. Don’t electrify these gates.
You should keep your equipment clean and check it for cleanliness. For further advice on milking you can read the DairyCo guide to milking.
3.3 Milking machinery
You need a properly working milking machine for:
- the cows’ comfort
- best milking performance
- udder health
During each milking session, you should make simple checks (such as the working vacuum level). You should also carry out routine maintenance to make sure that the milking machine is working properly.
You should have new or refurbished installations independently tested to make sure they work as expected and to the British Standard for milking machine installations.
Once a year a trained and competent operator should carry out at least one full working assessment of the machinery. This is to make sure that it’s operating correctly and to make any repairs or adjustments.
4. Looking after health and welfare
You or your stock-keeper should produce a written health and welfare plan, using advice from vets and other health advisers. You should review and update the plan at least once a year.
Your plan should include:
- biosecurity (preventing disease) arrangements on-farm and in transport
- purchased stock procedures
- any specific disease programmes, such as leptospirosis, Johne’s disease, salmonella, Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) and tuberculosis
- vaccination policy and timing
- isolation procedures
- external and internal parasite control
- lungworm control
- lameness monitoring and foot care
- routine procedures, such as ear tagging
- mastitis control - you may need extra measures if your herd suffers from summer mastitis
4.1 Sick and injured animals
When you see any animal that appears to be ill or injured you must:
- immediately care for it appropriately (eg give it suitable medicines)
- call a vet as soon as possible if the animal does not respond to care
You can’t transport a sick or injured animal unless:
- it’s fit for the journey
- you’ve made plans to take care of it on the journey and at arrival
If you need to kill a sick animal on your farm you can only use:
- a free bullet - you should kill the animal with a single shot to the head
- stunning with a captive bolt, concussion stunner or electrical stunner, after which you must bleed or pith it immediately
The person carrying out stunning, bleeding or pithing must be a licensed slaughterman, unless you’re the owner and slaughtering the animal for your own consumption.
Read the National Animal and Disease Information Service for cattle diseases to find out how to treat sick animals.
4.2 Dosing and vaccination equipment
You must make sure that all the equipment you use for dosing, vaccinating and treating cattle is in good working order.
You should regularly clean and sterilise any equipment you use for injections, to avoid infections and abscesses. The size of a dosing-gun nozzle should be suitable for the animal’s age.
When giving treatments you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions and be trained to give treatments (such as injections or boluses by mouth). If you give treatments poorly you could injure the animals.
You need to call a vet immediately if lame cows don’t respond to any treatment you apply.
You must not transport any cattle off-farm that can’t:
- stand up unaided
- bear their weight on all 4 legs when standing or walking
You should not take any cattle that can bear weight on all 4 feet but are slightly lame to market or anywhere else if it’s likely to aggravate the injury, however slightly.
If a lame animal doesn’t respond to the vet’s treatment, you should have it culled rather than leave it to suffer. If you can’t transport lame animals without causing them more pain, you should slaughter them on the farm.
You can get best practice advice on parasites from the Control of Worms Sustainability website.
4.5 Notifiable diseases
You must report the following notifiable diseases:
- Aujeszky’s disease
- bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)
- brucella abortus (Brucellosis)
- enzootic bovine leukosis
- foot-and-mouth disease
- lumpy-skin disease
- Rift Valley fever
- vesicular stomatitis
- warble fly
If you suspect a notifiable disease you must tell your nearest Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) office immediately – failure to do this is an offence and you can be fined.
4.6 Preventing disease and new animals
You should have isolation facilities so that you can isolate, observe and test new animals for illness when they arrive and before they join the rest of the herd.
You should only use hired bulls when no alternative is available. You should study the potential disease status of any hired bull before introducing it.
4.7 Record keeping
You need to keep a record of the:
- number of mortalities found on each animal inspection
- date you treated any animals
- name and address of the supplier where you bought any medicines you used in treatments
- identity and quantity of medicines used
- animal or group of animals you treated
You must keep records for at least 3 years. You must make these records available to any authorised person from Defra who asks for them.
5. Feeding and watering
As well as following general animal welfare feed guidance, you should provide enough water for at least 10% of housed cattle to drink at any one time.
You need enough water troughs or other drinkable water source (such as a bowser, or water tanker) for cattle to use wherever they’re grazing. These areas should be easy to access, be smooth underfoot and not tend to waterlog.
You must remove any old or stale feed which could contaminate fresh feed and spoil the animal’s appetites.
5.1 Use safe feed
You must not place feed that could harm human or animal health on the market.
You must not:
- feed animals any substance, food or liquid that can cause them unnecessary suffering or injury
- use feed that makes the animals who eat it unable to produce food that’s safe for humans to eat
- arrange for unsafe feed to be withdrawn from the market if you believe that you supplied it - contact your local environmental health officer and the Food Standards Agency if this happens
- destroy unsafe feed - unless an advising authority (such as a vet) has told you not to
- tell anyone who uses your feed why you’re withdrawing it
Read the guide on food safety and farmed animals for more information on how to follow safe feed laws.
6. Housing cattle
Housing should have enough space for all the animals to:
- lie in comfort at the same time
- interact with each other
- stand up and move freely
You should take expert advice from a vet on the best space allowance for cattle housed in groups considering:
- the whole environment
- the age, sex, liveweight and behavioural needs of the stock
- the size of the group
- whether any of the animals have horns
When feed and water troughs are accessible from the bedded area you should make sure that they don’t become fouled.
Floors shouldn’t slope too steeply (no more than about 10%) as steeper slopes can cause leg problems, slipping and falling. You shouldn’t let slurry build up on concrete floors and passageways, as this will also make the floor slippery.
6.1 Slatted floors
When using slats make sure that they aren’t slippery and the gap is narrow enough to prevent foot injuries. You shouldn’t use fully slatted concrete floors for breeding cows or replacement heifers.
When using slats, part of the accommodation should be a solid-floor area with straw or some other suitable bedding material. That way the animals will be comfortable and less likely to injure themselves, especially their udders.
6.2 Bulls reared for slaughter
You should keep bulls reared for slaughter in small groups, ideally no more than 20 animals in each. You shouldn’t normally add bulls to groups already formed, and you shouldn’t add one group to another to send to slaughter.
You should keep groups of bulls at a safe distance from female cattle.
6.3 Straw yards
You should completely clean out dairy herd straw yards every 4 to 6 weeks. You should top up with clean, dry straw every day.
There should be enough room for all the animals in the management group to lie down and move around freely. You should design troughs to reduce fouling if feed and water troughs are accessible from the bedded area.
When you provide feed and water troughs in a loafing area, you need to make sure the access areas are:
- wide enough for free movement
- kept dry and aren’t fouled or slippery
You should partly cover any loafing areas.
You’ll need to control the build-up of slurry in passageways and loafing areas by scraping at least twice a day.
You should take bulling cows away from the main group temporarily, so that the risk of teat injuries is reduced and the straw yard will not be churned up.
If using cubicles you should have at least one for each cow (about 5% more cubicles than the number of cows in the management group is recommended).
You should train heifers to lie in cubicles by encouragement (eg giving them familiar bedding) rather than by restraint (eg tethering them).
Keep slurry to a minimum, either by scraping out the passageways at least twice a day or by using slatted passageways. You should clean the cubicle base each day and replace the bedding as necessary, to keep the lying area clear of manure.
Cubicle passageways should be wide enough for cows to pass one another easily. Cubicles should be designed to encourage cows to lie down and stand up easily without injuring themselves. You need to have enough bedding to:
- keep the cows comfortable
- prevent them from getting contact or pressure sores (from always lying in the same or cramped positions)
- keep the cows’ teats, udders and flanks clean
You must never use a bare, solid base in the cubicles. Kerbs should be low enough so cows don’t strain their legs as they enter or leave the cubicle. Beds need to be high enough so that slurry won’t contaminate them.
The lying area should be big enough to help keep the cows clean and comfortable and to avoid them damaging their joints.
You need to untie tethered cows and let them exercise at least once a day and give them feed and water if it’s a long exercise period. The animals should also be able to groom themselves when tethered. The cowshed needs to be well ventilated.
You should design and place feed and water troughs where smaller animals can’t get into them, and you should keep the troughs clean. Troughs should let all the animals in the pen eat at the same time.
The internal surfaces of housing and pens should be made of materials that you can clean and disinfect and easily replace when necessary. Only use paints or wood preservatives that are safe to use with animals if you’re treating the surfaces.
You must make sure that air circulation, dust levels, temperature, relative humidity and gas concentrations are kept at levels that don’t harm your animals.
You should design all new buildings to keep animals comfortable and to prevent respiratory diseases. Buildings should have ventilation that works throughout the year for the type, size and number of stock to be housed in them. You may need to insulate roofs.
If your existing ventilation is poor you should adapt buildings by improving air inlets and outlets. Or you can use mechanical equipment (such as a fan).
When removing slurry from under slats you mustn’t foul the air with dangerous gases (such as methane) - methane can kill both humans and animals.
If you need to remove slurry from cattle housing you should take all stock out of the building first. Buildings should be well ventilated during this.
You mustn’t keep cattle in buildings in permanent darkness.
If there isn’t enough natural light available in a building to meet the cattle’s welfare needs you need to have artificial lighting. But you must give animals a daily rest period from artificial lighting.
During daylight hours, indoor lighting - natural or artificial - should be bright enough for you to see all the housed cattle and for the cattle to feed and behave normally.
You should also have enough fixed or portable lighting available at any time if you need to inspect any animals, for example, during calving.
You need to be able to release and evacuate livestock quickly if there’s an emergency, such as by having outward opening doors and gates. You should install fire alarms that can be heard and responded to at any time of the day or night.
6.9 Getting more accommodation information
You can see the website of or contact DairyCo, the dairy farming organisation, for:
- more information on accommodation
- details on cubicle design
- best practice and guidance on lighting
- building ventilation information
Eblex, the organisation for the English beef and sheep industry, also has information on cattle building design and space allowances.
7. Protect animals from hazards and emergencies
You must protect your animals from any potential hazards, like:
- on-farm debris - eg wire or plastic
- open drains
- predators - including dogs
- extreme weather - heat waves, flooding or being buried by snow
You should make sure that staff can get into all buildings as quickly as possible during an emergency.
You also need to take care of your livestock’s welfare off the farm. You should read the guidance on:
- how to transport animals and look after their welfare
- caring for animals at farm shows and markets
- looking after animal welfare when you kill them
7.1 Keeping surfaces safe
You should keep all surfaces that your animals can access (like walls and floors) free from anything that could cause injury or death, like:
- sharp edges or sticking out parts
- electrical wires
- toxic paint or wood preservative - make sure that any second-hand materials don’t have any lead-based paint
7.2 Extreme weather
You should move stock to a more suitable area if there’s no natural or artificial shelter to protect grazing stock from extreme weather conditions.
You should look after your fences, trim hedges and remove any blockages or snags (on hedges, gates, fences or feeding troughs) that could catch on ear tags.
You should make sure that any electric fences are designed and maintained so that when the animals touch them they only get a mild shock.
You must earth all power units for electric fences to prevent short circuits or electricity being conducted anywhere it shouldn’t be (eg gates and water troughs).
7.4 Weeds and inspections
You should control injurious (harmful) weeds because they can harm animals by:
- poisoning them (for example, ragwort)
- injuring them (for example, thistle)
- reducing their grazing area by reducing the edible plants that are available
Defra can serve you with an enforcement notice if you occupy land with one or more of the following 5 injurious weeds growing:
- spear thistle (Cirsium vulgare)
- creeping or field thistle (Cirsium arvense)
- curled dock (Rumex crispus)
- broad-leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius)
- common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea)
You can be asked to prevent the weeds from spreading.
Defra inspectors can enter the land to inspect whether an enforcement notice has been complied with. If you don’t follow the notice, you’ll be guilty of an offence and can be fined.
Defra can also order weeds cleared at your expense.
7.5 More information on managing cattle
You can see DairyCo for more on general information on cattle management.
8. Pregnancy, calving and calf-rearing
You must make sure that any lactating dairy cows, or any cows that are calving, in roofed accommodation can access a well-drained and bedded lying area at all times.
If you keep any cows that are calving in a building, you must keep them:
- in a pen or yard which is big enough for a person to see to the cows
- separate from other livestock (other than calving cows)
8.1 Calf rearing
You must inspect all calves to check they are well at least:
- twice a day for housed calves
- once a day for calves kept outside
You must place any sick or injured calves in suitable accommodation with dry comfortable bedding.
- feed calves at least twice a day
- make sure all calves have enough fresh drinking water each day, and with fresh drinking water at all times when they’re ill or the weather is hot
- make sure that each calf receives bovine colostrum as soon as possible after it’s born (and no more than 6 hours after birth)
- give calves food that contains enough iron for a blood haemoglobin level of at least 4.5 millimoles per litre
- give a daily ration for each calf over 2-weeks-old - starting with at least 100g at 2-weeks-old and increasing to at least 250g at 20-weeks-old
You mustn’t muzzle calves.
You need to feed each calf at the same time as others in the feeding group if they:
- don’t have continuous access to feed
- aren’t fed by an automatic feeding system.
8.2 Housing calves
You mustn’t keep calves in an individual stall or pen after the age of 8 weeks, unless a vet certifies that it’s needed.
The width of an individual stall or pen needs to be at least:
- as high as the calf at the withers (measured from standing)
- 1.1 times as long as the body length of the calf, measured from the tip of the nose to the caudal edge of the tuber ischii (pin bone)
Individual stalls or pens for calves (except for those isolating sick animals) need to have perforated walls to let calves see and touch each other.
When keeping calves in groups, you need to meet minimum requirements for unobstructed space allowance for each calf.
|Live weight||Unobstructed space allowance per calf (square metres)|
|Less than 150kg||1.5|
|150kg to 199kg||2|
|200kg and greater||3|
Each calf needs to be able to:
- stand up, turn around, lie down, rest and groom itself easily
- see at least 1 other calf if your holding has 2 or more calves (unless the calf is in isolation following a vet’s advice)
You mustn’t tether calves, except for group-housed calves - you can tether these for no more than 1 hour when being fed milk. These tethers:
- shouldn’t injure the calves - you’ll need to inspect and adjust them to make sure they are comfortable
- mustn’t strangle the calf, or cause pain or injury
- let the calf lie down, rest, stand up and groom itself easily
You need to:
- light any building housing calves with artificial lighting for at least the same period of time natural light is available between 9am and 5pm
- clean and disinfect all housing, stalls, pens, equipment and utensils used for calves
- remove all spilt and uneaten food, as well as animal waste (eg faeces).
When you keep calves in a building, floors need to be:
- smooth, but not slippery
- designed so that they don’t injure calves or cause them to suffer when standing or lying down
- suitable for the size and weight of the calves
- a rigid, even and stable surface
For bedding and lying areas, you need to:
- give all calves bedding
- keep calves on (or let them access at all times) a lying area that’s clean, comfortable, and well-drained
- give all housed calves and calves kept in hutches or temporary structures a lying area with dry bedding (either keep them on this or give them access to it at all times)
8.3 Moving and selling calves
You mustn’t move newborn animals until their navel has completely healed.
You mustn’t bring to market any calf:
- less than 7 days old
- with an unhealed navel
- that’s been brought to market more than once in the past 28 days
It’s your duty as the calf’s owner (or authorised agent) to remove a calf from market within 4 hours after the last calf sale by auction for the day.
You mustn’t castrate calves over 2 months old without anaesthetic.
You can only use a rubber ring (or other device that restricts blood flow to the scrotum) without anaesthetic within the first week of life.
Only a vet can castrate a calf over 2 months old.
8.5 Disbudding and dehorning
You mustn’t disbud calves (remove buds before horn material can be seen) or dehorn cattle without anaesthetic. The only time you can is through chemical cauterisation. You can only use chemical cauterisation during the first week of life.
8.6 Supernumerary teats
You mustn’t remove a supernumerary (extra) teat from a calf that’s older than 3 months. Only a vet can do this and they must use anaesthetic.
9. Breeding cattle
To rear heifers successfully you need to manage them carefully throughout their growing period, up to calving.
9.1 Inspecting breeding cattle
You need to inspect lactating cows and those close to birthing at least twice a day.
9.2 Breeding methods and artificial insemination
You mustn’t use any breeding methods (either natural or artificial) that may cause suffering or injury to animals, except when this is brief or unlikely to cause lasting injury.
You can only carry out artificial insemination if:
- you’re a vet
- a trained full-time employee of a licensed supply centre
- you’re the cow’s owner (or owner’s employee) and you’ve been trained
You can only collect embryos if you’re:
- a vet
- part of an approved embryo collection team and acting under the authority of the team vet
A vet must examine the cow that’ll receive the embryo before transfer can take place. The examination must be within 30 days before transfer if the person carrying out the transfer isn’t a vet.
The vet must certify that you (or other recipient) are:
- suitable to receive the embryo
- able to carry it to term and calf naturally, and that there’s no reason at the time of examination to believe otherwise
Embryo transfer and embryo collection may only be made if the animal is given an anaesthetic (usually an epidural). Only a vet or someone trained to do so can give an epidural.
9.3 Ultrasound scanning
To carry out ultrasound scanning you must have:
- attended a Defra-approved training course
- carried out a number of supervised scans
- a certificate of exemption from Defra
9.4 Bulls and bull pens
You should keep breeding bulls, where possible, with other stock, for example dry cows. You should place bull pens so that bulls can see and hear farm activity.
Bull pens should have a sleeping area:
- around 16 square metres for an average bull
- at least 1 square metre for every 60kg liveweight for bulls weighing over 1,000kg
Unless you regularly and routinely exercise bulls outside the pen (or if you use the bull pen as the service area) then the pen should have an exercise area at least twice as large as the sleeping area..
You should have facilities in the pen and exercise area so that you can securely restrain the bull with a yoke or similar device. This is so that you can carry out routine husbandry procedures (such as cleaning out the bull pen) and so that the bull can be treated when needed.
10. Animal welfare inspections
Inspectors from the Animal and Plant Health Agency and your local authority can visit your farm. They’ll normally give notice but may not if they’ve had a complaint about how you’re treating them.
Find out more at the guide to farm inspections.
They’ll check how you’re caring for your animals and if you’re following cross-compliance restrictions. You must allow inspectors to:
- see all your animals in their normal rearing environment
- see a demonstration of how your alarm system (to alert you if automated ventilation and other systems fail) and its back-up generators work
- examine specific animals on request
- take any samples, carcasses or photographs they need
- inspect veterinary medicine records and mortality records
- check any other records that will show you’re meeting requirements (like animal feed records)
- ask if there’s been a known or suspected outbreak of a notifiable disease on your premises during the year