As a nation of farmers with a proud agricultural history, New Zealand is at the forefront of the dairy industry, renowned as a global industry leader with some of the best animal welfare standards in the world.

Animal welfare is closely tied to not only improved dairy yields and therefore sustainability of the dairy industry as a whole, but also our cultural values – “do the right thing” and “duty of care” are renowned phrases that are dear to many New Zealanders’ hearts.

Recently, the New Zealand Government has undertaken steps to further improve the health of the country’s livestock through newly proposed animal welfare regulations.

But what are these changes and how do they affect Kiwi farmers? Read on to find out more.

What is the NZ Dairy Cattle Code Of Welfare?

In New Zealand, dairy cattle are protected by the Animal Welfare Act 1999, the Dairy Cattle Code Of Welfare, and a slate of associated regulations – law-making actions made under the delegated authority of the Act. The delegated authorities referenced here are typically the Ministry For Primary Industries (MPI) and the Royal New Zealand Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals, who jointly enforce the Act. The Act clearly states that all animals in New Zealand have the right to proper and sufficient care, and provides high level legal obligations to all persons who own or interact with animals nationwide.

Beneath the Animal Welfare Act 1999 (and its associated regulations) sits the Dairy Cattle Code Of Welfare – a best practice framework laid out by MPI to give direct guidelines and minimum standards regarding the welfare and treatment of dairy cattle. ‘The Code’, as it is commonly referred to, encourages the highest standards of husbandry, care and handling in the pursuit of greater animal welfare, setting benchmarks that all personnel who are involved with, or responsible for dairy cattle must adhere to – not just farm managers and owners.

Learn how SmartShelters can keep you compliant

SmartShelters can help you to get ahead of the curve and stay compliant, saving you the hassle and risk of costly remedial work later down the line.

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What are the principles of the NZ Dairy Cattle Code Of Welfare?

The Dairy Cattle Code Of Welfare instructs dairy farmers to follow five core principles:

Physical and behavioural needs

Dairy cattle should be provided with adequate food, water, shelter, and space to move around freely, with allowance for natural behaviours such as grazing, resting, and socialising with other cows.


Dairy cattle should be kept in a way that minimises the risk of disease and injury, with owners ensuring they are provided with regular veterinary care and treatment as necessary.


Dairy cattle should be treated gently and with respect, and handled in a way that reduces stress and discomfort.


Dairy cattle should be milked in a way that minimises unnecessary discomfort and pain, using machines that are properly maintained and adjusted.


Dairy cattle should be transported with adequate space, ventilation, and access to food and water.

Future-proof your farm with SmartShelters

Farming requires consistency. SmartShelters can help you to future proof your farm, keeping you compliant with the changes to the dairy industry.

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Proposed changes to the NZ Dairy Cattle Code Of Welfare

The proposed changes currently before the New Zealand Government for review address a number of perceived gaps in the Dairy Cattle Code Of Welfare – primarily around the following seven topics:

  • Shelter
  • Body condition score
  • Intensive winter grazing
  • The use of electricity to manage animal behaviour (such as cattle prods and electric fences)
  • Provision of lying surfaces and limit for time on hard surfaces in off-paddock facilities
  • Calf rearing
  • End-of-life management.

The following collection of collated excerpts are taken from the Proposed Code Of Welfare For Dairy Cattle And Associated Regulations document prepared by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC).


  • The main consideration of standards around the provision of shelter should be the protection of animals from climatic extremes that may result in thermal stress, discomfort and associated welfare compromise. In this context it is NAWAC’s position that the act of providing such protection (sheltering) has broader meaning than the traditional view of natural shelter in the pastoral farming landscape, and that appropriate provision of artificial means to mitigate thermal stress can have equivalent or better animal welfare outcomes.
  • NAWAC considers that heat stress is a serious animal welfare issue, especially for lactating dairy cattle. All dairy cattle must be provided with shade or other means to minimise the risk of heat stress due to warm and/or humid conditions.
  • All dairy cattle must be provided with cow shelter or other means to minimise the risk of cold stress due to cold and/or wet conditions.
  • Photosensitive animals must be provided with protection from exposure to direct sunlight.

Body condition score

  • Body condition score (BCS) must not fall below 3.5 or go above 8 (scale of 1-10).
  • The minimum standard that BCS for dairy cattle must not exceed 8 allows for best practice recommendations to avoid animal welfare consequences around calving. NAWAC acknowledges that most animals will sit within a lower range, with the recommended target calving BCS for cows and heifers being 5 and 5.5, respectively, but below 7 to minimise calving difficulties and metabolic problems.
  • NAWAC considers that dairy cattle that fall below a BCS of 3.5 are not fit for transport – as an example indicator end-of-life cattle with a BCS below 3.5 are not transported unless under veterinary advice.

Intensive winter grazing

  • Dairy cattle should be provided with the opportunity to lie and rest comfortably on a compressible, well-drained and clean surface for as long as they choose.

SmartShelters composting barns are perfect for intensive winter grazing, providing cows a warm, dry environment to rest in, helping to maintain a positive body condition score while requiring less daily feed. See our winter grazing for cattle article for details.

Electricity use to manage animal behaviour

  • NAWAC is proposing a new minimum standard that electroimmobilisation devices must not be used.
  • NAWAC is proposing a new minimum standard that electrified backing and top gates must not be used.
  • NAWAC is proposing new minimum standards to safeguard the welfare of bulls during electroejaculation.

Provision of lying surfaces and limit for time on hard surfaces in off-paddock facilities

  • Where dairy cattle are kept in off-paddock facilities for more than 12 hours a day for more than three consecutive days they must be provided with a well-drained lying area with a compressible surface or bedding, maintained to avoid manure accumulation.
  • River stones must not be used as a surface cover or bedding substrate in off-paddock facilities.

Calf rearing

  • All newborn calves removed from their dam must be offered sufficient good quality colostrum/colostrum substitute as soon as possible after but within two hours of being removed, to ensure that any calves that have not sucked their dam receive colostrum within 24 hours after birth.
  • For the first three weeks after birth calves must be fed a suitable good quality liquid feed at a rate of no less than 20% of their body weight divided into no less than two feeds per day.
  • A calf must be given suitable liquid feeds, until the rumen has developed sufficiently to allow it to utilise solids as the sole feed source, but must not be fully weaned off milk before six weeks of age.

End-of-life management

  • Animals to be culled from the herd must be identified in a timely manner so they can be selected and prepared for transport appropriately.

SmartShelters can help you remain compliant

Good animal welfare management is not just the kind and humane thing to do – it is also good business practice. Improvements to the welfare of dairy cattle have been shown to improve dairy yields, leading to greater sustainability of the industry as a whole, and providing a long-term financial incentive to those who prioritise the welfare of their herd.

SmartShelters provide a range of products suitable for dairy farming, including calf rearing shelters, feed pad barns, composting barns, free stall barns, hay storage sheds, and more, increasing the productivity and income of your farm, all the while protecting the health of your herd and keeping you compliant with the Dairy Cattle Code Of Welfare and Animal Welfare Act 1999, and the proposed upcoming changes to The Code.

Our team of dedicated agricultural industry experts are on hand to help you get and stay compliant ahead of the proposed changes to The Code, and will be happy to assist you with any questions you may have.

Contact us today.