Why New Zealand Grass-Fed Dairy is the Better Choice for Animal Wellbeing

Discover the benefits of grass-fed dairying from veterinary expert Michael Shallcrass.

12 Oct 2021

7 min

#Blog #Global #All Categories #Sustainability

Michael is passionate about animal welfare in the dairy industry and this interview focuses on why he believes that New Zealand grass-fed dairying is a better choice for animal health and wellbeing.

Q. What does animal wellbeing mean to consumers?

Increasingly, consumers putting emphasis on where their food comes from. If that food is associated with animals, consumers are wanting assurance that those animals are well cared for. 

58% of consumers are concerned about animal welfare and are wanting brands they support to be ethical.¹

Recent research conducted by Kantar for Fonterra, also showed that consumers see a direct link between the care given to animals and delivering a safe and nutritious product.² In fact, the numbers of new products with animal welfare claims has grown by 90% from 2016 to 20203.

When it comes to animal wellbeing, New Zealand grass-fed dairying has a lot to offer, including being a better choice for the animals. AgResearch, a New Zealand Government Research Institute, has recently published a white paper entitled ‘Pasture-fed livestock production and products: Science behind the narrative’, which shows the benefits to cows of a pasture-based diet when compared to cows in housed animal systems. Researchers considered animal health and wellbeing, including the environment they are raised in and their ability to express their natural behaviours.

C1 Place

Q. What makes Fonterra's pasture based dairying system so unique when it comes to animal health and welfare.

New Zealand enjoys a temperate climate, excellent rainfall, and abundant sunshine. Most of New Zealand has at least 2,000 hours of sunshine annually. Because of this, our cows have access to pasture year-round.

Our Fonterra cows spend on average 97% of their time outside on pasture. At over 350 days a year, that’s more than anywhere else in the world.

They spend most of their time outside breathing fresh air, roaming their paddocks which are part of New Zealand’s vast dairy landscape.4

Cows grazing on grass

Q. How is animal welfare legally regulated in New Zealand?

New Zealand has robust legislation in the Animal Welfare Act 1999 and its supporting Codes and Regulations, which state the minimum standards that must be adhered to on farm, along with recommended best practices relating to animal care.

These animal health instruments are set, updated and regulated by the New Zealand Government, and enforced by the Ministry for Primary Industries and New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals.

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Being outside on pasture in the open air has positive animal health and wellbeing benefits for our cows for the following reasons; 

1. Natural living

Pasture based dairy farming lets cows exhibit their natural behaviours, freely choosing where to eat, drink and who to socially interact with. New Zealand’s average stocking rate*, is 2.84 cows/ha or 3,512m2 per cow. That’s over half a football field for each and every cow!



3. Biosecurity advantage

New Zealand has a natural biosecurity advantage; as remote islands in the South Pacific, we are free from many pests and diseases that affect dairy farming in other parts of the world.




5. No hormones added

Our farmers never use growth hormones (rBST) to increase milk production. In fact, the New Zealand Government completely prohibits the use of animal growth hormones in dairy farming. And we only use antibiotics when our cows need them, for the treatment of known infections and under veterinary advice.

2. Soft under hoof

Pasture provides both natural nutrition and a soft surface for cows to rest and roam. They are exposed to lower levels of environmental bacteria and are under less physiological stress, making them less susceptible to disease. We know our cowsare healthy because they have low somatic cell counts, a contributing factor to them living longer, more natural lives

4. Nurtured cows

We believe our cows are amongst the best cared for cows in the world and that the way we nurture our cows makes them happy. Our farmers are required to uphold high standards of animal welfare and meet our New Zealand regulations. These requirements are set out in Fonterra Farmers’ Terms of Supply, and in our Group Animal Welfare and Biosecurity Policy.

6. Independently certified

Our Cared for Cows Standard is independently certified annually.





Q. What does animal health & wellbeing mean for Fonterra?

Cows are the heart of every Fonterra dairy farm, and their wellbeing means everything to our farmers. Our cows spend their time outdoors, grazing on lush green grass, making the most of natural sunlight and fresh air with plenty of space to walk and lie down. They are valued and treated with respect throughout their lives, ensuring they are healthy, productive, and well cared for.

Fonterra is part of the Dairy Tomorrow Strategy – which aims to make the New Zealand dairy sector world leading in animal care. We also share our knowledge of best practice with other countries and assess the wellbeing of animals as part of our on-going quality assessments in all markets.

Q. Does Fonterra align to the World Health Organisation's 'Five Freedoms'?

Yes, as part of our Group Animal Welfare Policy, our Fonterra farmers are required to meet the five freedoms. The internationally recognised Five Freedoms are reflected in the minimum standards of the Code of Welfare: Dairy Cattle (2019). We are also continuously improving animal wellbeing outcomes through promotion of positive experiences as described by the Five Domains.

The Five Domains recognise that both positive and negative experiences in each of the four physical domains (nutrition, environment, health, behaviour) contribute to the overall mental state of an animal (the fifth domain).

We strive to provide positive experiences for our cows in all four physical domains. We want our cows to be:

  1. Well-fed (Nutrition)
  2. Comfortable (Environment)
  3. Healthy (Health)
  4. Content (Behaviour)

Q. How does Fonterra ensure that these high standards around animal health and wellbeing are upheld by their farmers?

Our ‘Cared for Cows’ Standard sets out the requirements for Fonterra’s management of animal health and wellbeing on our farms. The standard includes as a minimum:

  • A system for recording and measuring farm level data provided by our farmers, including but not limited to, incidence of lameness, mortality, clinical mastitis, herd data, replacement rates, bulk somatic cell count and milk production data.
  • Validation of farm data by a third-party auditor.
  • A risk assessment framework to identify farms with the potential for animal health and welfare issues. This is reviewed and updated annually to ensure the framework remains relevant.
  • Clear triggers within the framework and a timely process for further investigation.
  • A complaint follow-up process where issues identified by anyone internal or external to Fonterra, are addressed with urgency.
  • If there are ever any Animal Health and Welfare issues identified on farm through any method of identification, we have a clear process for ensuring that the animals receive immediate attention.
Farm and daughter on farm looking at cows

Q. Why did Fonterra look to create their own standard? 

While external animal welfare standards and certifications exist, not all are relevant to New Zealand’s pasture-based farming system. Our farming system means cows have access to outdoor pasture all year. Many welfare standards used overseas are designed for housed cattle and utilise assessment criteria which are simply not applicable or appropriate to assess our cows’ wellbeing.

Q. How do you verify the data on farm?

All Fonterra farmers are third party audited against the Fonterra Farm Dairy, Dairy Material Collection, Storage and Transportation Risk Management Programme (RMP) 302 protocol.

This ensures that all Food Safety activities on farm meet the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) requirements in New Zealand, as well as Fonterra standards that support eligibility of dairy material being sold to overseas markets.

Q. Is the ‘Cared for Cows’ standard third-party certified?

Our Fonterra ’Cared for Cows’ Standard is third party certified by AsureQuality, an independent Conformity Assessment Body (CAB). AsureQuality is accredited by the Joint Accreditation Scheme for Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ) to certify against this standard.

Q.  How could I use Fonterra’s ‘Cared for Cows’ claim on my own dairy product to drive differentiation and meet the needs of the conscious consumer?

We have created a toolkit full of proof points, substantiations, professional claim icons, royalty- free images and videos – with more to come. Harnessing what makes our New Zealand dairy special will help drive demand for your business and set you apart. 

Providing your consumers with confidence and assurance that our claims are certified by an independent third party. Partnering with us will allow you to build your own compelling story by accessing engaging and emotive content that adds authenticity to your brand and claims. We look forward to starting this journey with you.

As an NZMP customer, you can license our ‘Cared for Cows’ claim and associated Natural Dairy Claims. Talk to us today about how this could work for your business and brand.

Download this month's Perspective

This article was from the October edition of Perspective.


Michael Shallcrass

Senior Veterinary Manager Fonterra

Michael is the Senior Veterinary Manager within Fonterra’s On-Farm Excellence Animals team. This team focuses on managing animal health and welfare on Fonterra farms, and identifying and encouraging the adoption of good farming practices. Michael oversees Fonterra’s Mastitis Support Programme, with a network of veterinarians around the country who have received additional training in milk quality investigations. Before joining Fonterra, Michael was in clinical practice for twelve years, with a strong focus on mastitis management and bull fertility.

  • [1] FMCG Gurus: Top Ten Trends for 2021 – January 2021
  • [2] Kantar, 2020, qualitative consumer research in nine key markets
  • [3] Mintel GNPD
  • [4] Committed to low carbon dairying |

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the opinion of the author, not those of Fonterra, and Fonterra is not responsible for any decisions taken in reliance on the same.

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