Caring for animals

We work with our farmers to meet globally recognised standards.

We work with our farmers to meet globally recognised standards as set by the World Organisation for Animal Health, implement practices that provide positive experience as described by the Five Domains and eliminate practices that contravene the Five Freedoms.

Our global policy, as highlighted in our Fonterra Farmers’ Terms of Supply requires all farmers who supply us with milk to comply with all applicable animal health and welfare legislation.

In addition, in all countries where we collect milk, we build on existing animal welfare legislation and work with industry bodies to deliver outcomes consistent with our animal welfare policies and standards.

On a regular basis we review the alignment of our policies and standards with external welfare agencies.

What we've been doing

Fonterra has a dedicated and highly trained team focusing on animal welfare for our global supply of milk. This team undertakes specific training for animal welfare from both internal and external sources. 

This team is responsible for:

  • Delivering animal welfare training within Fonterra and to external stakeholders.
  • Focusing on animal welfare and how to achieve continuous improvement on supplying farms.
  • Setting animal welfare policy and standards.
  • Implementation and compliance with these policies and standards.
  • Conducting and overseeing global audits.

Our global animal welfare standards (as summarised below) apply to all dairy animals in our supply chain regardless of the finished product or brand their milk is used in.
Prudent use of antibiotics

All Fonterra suppliers must ensure antibiotics are only used following guidance from, and consultation with a veterinarian. Use of antibiotics must be for therapeutic or curative treatment of an animal or group of animals following diagnosis of infection.

The use of any category of antibiotic as a growth promoter is not permitted.

The prophylactic use of any category of antibiotics is not permitted.

No growth promoting hormones

Growth promoting hormones (HGPs) must not be used in any cows supplying milk to Fonterra.

Avoidance of recombinant bovine somatotrophin (rBST)

Fonterra does not support the use of hormones such as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) to increase milk production.

Avoidance of close confinement

Close confinement is not allowed for animals supplying milk to Fonterra. Each cow must have enough space to stand, stretch, turn around and to lie down comfortably to achieve adequate resting time.

The practice of keeping animals in individual calf crates is not acceptable for animals being reared to supply milk to Fonterra.

Permanent tethering is not allowed for animals supplying milk to Fonterra.

Pasture-based farming, where cows graze outside on grass, is the most common approach used in our supply chain. To qualify for our Grass and Pasture-Fed Standard, the cows on supplying farms must spend at least 90% of their time on pasture.

Avoidance of permanent physical alterations

Routine tail shortening of dairy cows or calves is not permitted on farms supplying Fonterra. Where tail amputation is required as a medical treatment (e.g. due to accidental injury), this should be performed under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Fonterra supports the use of cattle with polled genes. Where polled cattle are not available, disbudding of young calves is preferred to the de-horning of older animals. Disbudding and de-horning must be performed with appropriate pain relief.

Castration and shortening of the scrotum of dairy bull calves should only be carried out at a young age with techniques that minimise acute and long-term pain or discomfort. When castrating animals over the age of six months, appropriate pain relief must be used.

Humane slaughter

Our global standard requires that euthanasia must either cause immediate death or render the animal insensible (unconscious) before slaughter. Death must not cause avoidable anxiety, pain, distress or suffering. Persons undertaking humane slaughter must be suitably trained and competent – this training is recorded in the farm records.

In New Zealand, ineffective stunning requiring repeat stunning in excess of 2% is investigated and remedied immediately. We continue to improve our global data capture systems to enhance reporting of humane slaughter performance data elsewhere in the world.

Limiting long distance transportation of live animals

Across our global supply chain, long distance transportation of live animals should be avoided wherever possible. 

When being transported, all animals should be provided with food, water, and rest which is adequate to their needs.


Fonterra is opposed to the practice of using animals that have been subject to genetic engineering or have been cloned. We will not accept milk from any cow that is a genetic clone.

Managing policy and performance

The development of strategy, policy and standards for the global management of farm animal welfare is the responsibility of Fonterra’s General Manager On Farm Excellence – Animals. Our welfare policies and standards are approved by the Fonterra Board and the Senior Management Team.

The management and implementation of Fonterra’s animal welfare policies and strategies is undertaken at a local level, supported by our centralised On Farm Excellence – Animals team. This team also works to provide education and increase awareness of the importance of good animal welfare.

Globally, our International Milk Quality team assesses animal welfare as part of their milk quality audits in all markets outside of New Zealand where we source milk. This enables Fonterra to identify any issues and recommend improvements to farmers. Many markets also have local veterinary and milk quality support teams to manage this work.

Prudent use of antibiotics

Our predominantly pasture-based cows have low levels of disease, therefore our farmers do not need to use antibiotics very often. New Zealand has been ranked the third-lowest user of antibiotics in animals in the world1. Australia has been ranked the fifth lowest user of antibiotics in agriculture1.

We continue to improve our global data capture systems to enhance reporting of on-farm antibiotic use. In the meantime, we make use of independently collected national data to track quantities and trends of antibiotic use. Key information from the most recent New Zealand data from Ministry of Primary Industry includes:

  • Total quantity of antibiotics sold during 2018 was 68,765 kg, down 4% on 2017.
  • Products registered for use in ‘multiple production’ species accounted for 16% of overall sales during 2018, up slightly from 13% sold during 2017.
  • Products registered for use in cattle only accounted for 15% of overall sales, down slightly from 16% during 2017.
  • Dry cow therapies (DCTs) dominate the antibiotics used for dairy cattle with 6,528 kg of products sold (9.5% of overall sales), down 16% compared to 2017.
  • All registered DCTs in New Zealand contain either penicillin (cloxacillin ± ampicillin) or first generation cephalosporins (cephalonium or cephapirin) and 84% of DCTs contained penicillins.
  • The number of cattle in New Zealand for 2018 was 6.4 million dairy plus 3.7 million beef = 10.1 million total.
No growth-promoting hormones

Growth promoting hormones are not used in cows supplying milk to Fonterra.

Avoidance of recombinant bovine somatotrophin (rBST)

rBST is not being used on any supplying farms in New Zealand, Australia, China or Sri Lanka. We continue to work with a small number of South American suppliers so we can become rBST-free across our entire global milk supply.

Avoidance of close confinement

0% of animals supplying Fonterra have been reared in close confining individual calf crates.

0% of animals supplying Fonterra are permanently tethered.

Avoidance of painful procedures

Data from our farm dairy assessments and other collection processes indicate that across our global supply chain:

  • Fewer than 1% of cows supplying Fonterra are subject to tail docking.
  • Our New Zealand and Australian farmers are increasing their use of polled genetics, although approximately 95% of calves still require disbudding.
  • Where calves are disbudded, over 90% of them receive concurrent pain relief.
  • No dehorning is performed without concurrent pain relief.
Limiting long distance transportation of live animals

Long distance transportation of live animals is avoided wherever possible across our global supply chain. In New Zealand, most young calves are not transported longer than 5 hours. We estimate the average travel time for cows in our global supply chain to be 2-3 hours.

We continue to improve our global data capture systems to enhance reporting of transport times.

1 Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. (2015). Antimicrobials in agriculture and the environment: reducing unnecessary use and waste

Fonterra is part of the Dairy Tomorrow Strategy  

Which aims to make the New Zealand dairy sector  "world leading in animal care". 

New Zealand farmers supply more than 85% of all milk collected by Fonterra, but all Fonterra suppliers around the world must follow our Group Animal Health and Welfare Standard, which reflects the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) welfare principles and standards.

Details of these are available at:

If you have concerns about dairy cattle welfare, contact the free and confidential 
Early Response Service: 0800 4 324 7969
The Co-operative Difference

The Co-operative Difference is our latest development in our approach to sustainability on farm, which makes it easier for our farmers to know what is expected today and in the future, as well as recognise those farmers who are going beyond the minimum requirements and taking steps to produce high quality milk in a more sustainable way.

We know that farmers who actively focus on animal health and welfare and who have a good relationship with their veterinarian usually achieve better health and welfare outcomes. In recognition of this, to achieve the ‘Animals’ component within The Co-operative Difference our farmers must develop and implement an animal health plan with their veterinarian.

Prudent use of antibiotics

The New Zealand Veterinary Association has announced an ambitious goal: By 2030 New Zealand Inc. will not need antibiotics for the maintenance of animal health and wellnessWe have been supporting veterinarians and farmers to meet this goal through aligned messaging and co-branding with the New Zealand Veterinary Association. In 2019, through The Co-operative Difference we began asking Fonterra suppliers to meet with their veterinarian every year to have a discussion on antibiotic use. We have also entered into a commercial partnership to offer our suppliers discounted testing for antimicrobial resistance.

We support the Ministry for Primary Industries’ antibiotics review and reassessment programme, and we will update our own internal policies and standards, where required, to reflect the outcomes of this review. 

Cared for Cows

In June 2018, we launched the Fonterra ‘Cared for Cows’ programme.
Through this program we proactively visit a subset of our supplying farms each year to collect a range of animal welfare performance data. This data assists us to verify the data captured automatically through the rest of the year and is used to discuss successes and further opportunities with our farmers.

If enhancement opportunities are identified, we work closely with each farmer to implement changes to improve welfare outcomes. Through this novel approach we promote the value of positive welfare to our suppliers, and proactively support them to ensure welfare standards are maintained.

Industry collaboration

We work with industry bodies and training organisations to ensure farmers have access to high-quality information and training that covers expected best practice and relevant regulatory requirements.

We regularly meet with industry partners including other dairy processors, farmer representative bodies, veterinarians, genetic improvement companies, meat processors, livestock transporters, and regulators to ensure these industry stakeholders are kept up to date with our priorities and activities.

Public education

Through our Open Gates programme farmers who supply milk to Fonterra host public open days on their farms to showcase how our milk goes from grass to glass. This includes demonstrating the importance of animal wellbeing as part of a successful farming operation. We think it’s a great way of connecting our consumers with the animals at the centre of our co-operative.

For those consumers who are unable to physically visit a farm, we provide educational videos, including interviews with farmers on their farms.

We also facilitate farm visits for school children and attend agricultural shows to present animal care principles to the wider public.

Elevating enrichment

Our pasture-based dairy cattle are provided with many opportunities for enrichment, including varied diets, freedom of movement, regular paddock changes, natural features to interact with, and social interactions with peers.

In New Zealand fewer than 0.05% of our herds are housed indoors, and all these herds provide enrichment such as grooming brushes. We continue to work with farms supplying milk to Fonterra globally to ensure all housed cattle are provided enrichment opportunities.

We want to raise the profile of enrichment, so both our farmers and the public are aware of just how many positive enrichment experiences are provided to cattle supplying Fonterra. We are currently developing strategies to showcase our farmers’ efforts in providing enrichment – watch this space!


Farmer education and training

We keep our supplying farmers up to date with the latest animal welfare practices and requirements and work closely with dairy industry bodies to provide farmers with comprehensive training and supporting information.

For example, Fonterra suppliers in New Zealand and Australia are members and funders of the industry good organisations Dairy NZ and Dairy Australia. We work with these organisations to provide extensive animal welfare advice, training and support material to our farmers. This can be found at: Dairy NZ and Dairy Australia. 

Improving industry standards

Fonterra regularly engages with the New Zealand Government and the wider dairy sector via the Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand (DCANZ).

In 2020 we have contributed to the Winter Grazing Action Group which is implementing recommendations to improve animal welfare in winter grazing systems, and provided detailed input for the review of New Zealand’s Biosecurity Act.

International partnership

Fonterra is a member of the International Dairy Federation (IDF), a recognised international authority which contributes actively to the development of science-based standards for the dairy sector.

IDF has working relationships with several global intergovernmental organisations and has a formal status with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme – Codex Alimentarius.

IDF recently released an updated version of their Guide to Good Animal Welfare in Dairy Production. Read it here.


Early Response Service

In New Zealand, Fonterra is an active participant in the Animal Welfare Early Response Service which supports farmers through challenging times and assists them in getting their animals and farms back on track.

If an animal welfare issue is raised with Fonterra or DairyNZ, a Fonterra Regional Food Safety and Assurance Manager, along with a DairyNZ Animal Care Extension Specialist, will work closely with the farmer, and Ministry for Primary Industries if necessary, to offer support and assistance.

Support includes developing a step-by-step action plan, conducting cow Body Condition Scoring, developing a feed budget, and recommending the services of Federated Farmers, Rural Support Trust, and farm dairy consultants if necessary. 

Follow up visits take place to ensure the action plan is being carried out.

Contacting the Early Response Service if you have concerns, phone the free confidential number: 0800 4 324 7969.

Free on-farm advice for our farmers

Fonterra prides itself in being hands-on to support our supplying farmers globally. Our team provides farm technical assistance in all milk regions in the form of:

  • On-farm workshops
  • Farmer discussion groups
  • Milk quality trace backs
  • Open days 
  • Farmer education events
Research and development projects

Our dedicated R+D team works to improve our knowledge and find innovative solutions to our big questions. Some of our animal welfare projects are highlighted below.


Research and development projects

  • Positive environments

  • Data capture

  • Milk fingerprinting

Positive environments

We’ve partnered with the AgResearch Animal Welfare Team to assess and understand elements of the cow experience. This is an ongoing workstream with the first tranche investigating the impact rearing environments for young calves has on behaviour and affective state. A second study is currently being set up for adult dairy cows investigating the complex and variable behaviours of cattle on pasture. 

These projects will help us understand the specific aspects of our pasture-based systems which provide the greatest welfare benefits and identify improvements to further enhance the wellbeing of our cattle.


Data capture

We are working with vets and researchers to improve how we monitor and manage disease in cattle. With the premise prevention is better than cure, monitoring and early notification of disease are paramount. 

For example, we are partnering in projects improving monitoring and management of diseases such as facial eczema and in improving whole herd monitoring of lameness. Improvements in monitoring will enable more proactive action and management of animal health and better avoidance and treatment of painful conditions.

Milk fingerprinting

Having milk samples every day has its advantages; not only does it allow constant monitoring of the quality of our milk, but we are developing milk tests to assess the health and wellbeing of our cows. Development of the capacity to detect and interpret markers in milk (which we broadly refer to as milk fingerprinting) has the potential to give insights into a cow’s nutrition, the type of diet, her mineral status or reflect stressors and quality of life. Being able to give feedback on cows’ nutrition, health and wellbeing will help our farmers optimise the lives of their animals.

New Zealand typically has young, free-draining soils, which can result in lower greenhouse gas emissions from farmland. High grass growth in New Zealand also results in lower fertiliser use and less nitrous oxide emissions. 

Mastitis control support

Fonterra has systems in place to provide guidance and support for farmers who are identified as having higher than expected levels of mastitis. Farmers with elevated somatic cell count readings are proactively contacted and encouraged to seek assistance. In many situations the cost of support is subsidised by Fonterra.

In New Zealand we have a network of veterinarians with advanced mastitis knowledge who have undertaken training with internationally respected experts in the field of mastitis investigation and control. These vets are available to assist our farmers to reduce the cell count of their herd with practical on-farm solutions. Fonterra’s in-house veterinarians monitor and assess the advice given by external advanced mastitis vets.

Based on the data we collect from farmers supplying us with milk in New Zealand, the average mastitis incidence rate for the 19/20 season was 11 cases per 100 cows (11%).

Biosecurity readiness and response

Fonterra knows the value to our primary industries of our island nation’s status as relatively free from diseases and pests found elsewhere in the world. Protecting this status and New Zealand’s unique environment is everyone’s responsibility and we are only as strong as the weakest link. Fonterra engages widely to support and improve the New Zealand biosecurity framework and we are one of the founding signatories to the Biosecurity Business Pledge.

As a member of the Dairy Companies Association of New Zealand (DCANZ), Fonterra contributes to:

Government Industry Agreements (GIA), these are a partnership between primary industries and government, signatories share the decision-making, responsibilities and costs of preparing for – and responding to – biosecurity incursions. By working in partnership, industry and government can achieve better biosecurity outcomes.

Joint readiness activities including the Livestock contribution to the Livestock Sector Biosecurity Council, which brings representatives from the livestock industries and MPI together to work on opportunities and issues specific to the livestock industry.

Animal wellbeing plans

We know that farmers who actively focus on animal health and welfare and who have a good relationship with their veterinarian usually achieve better health and welfare outcomes. In recognition of this, our farmers must develop and implement an animal health plan with their veterinarian in order to achieve within The Co-operative Difference.

In 2019, over half of our New Zealand suppliers had an animal health plan. In 2020 we are aiming to see animal health plans on more than 60% of farms supplying us in New Zealand. Our ultimate goal is to have an animal wellbeing plan on every Fonterra farm.

Somatic cell count monitoring

Udder health is an important indicator of overall health for dairy cattle. We monitor somatic cell count (SCC) globally as an indication of both milk quality and animal health. A lower SCC means less antibiotic use (fewer cases of clinical mastitis requiring treatment), and improved animal welfare (through improved animal health).

Over the past few years our focus on milk quality and animal welfare has resulted in improvements in SCC across all our regions. In the 2018/19 season this downward trend continued in our global regions except China. The increase in SCC in China is attributed to higher ambient temperatures during the 18/19 season.

While our global weighted SCC mean has decreased, we continue to work with our farmers around the world to keep improving animal health – including SCC.

Global Somatic Cell Count (SCC) trends

(000 cells/ml)


SCC 2017/2018

SCC 2018/2019

SCC 2019/2020

Target 2020/2021

New Zealand



171 175,000 cells/ml




172 175,000 cells/ml




317 270,000 cells/ml




395 500,000 cells/ml

Sri Lanka



662 600,000 cells/ml



183 160 165,000 cells/ml

Global Weighted Mean



176 170,000 cells/ml

Non Replacement Calves


We’re proud that Fonterra farmers are already world leaders when it comes to animal wellbeing. Consumers here in New Zealand and around the world are increasingly looking for more assurances around the quality of life experienced by the animals who produce their food.

As part of our strategic choice to lead in sustainability, Fonterra places a strong emphasis on calf wellbeing and a big part of this is ensuring that all dairy calves have a useful life.  This is why we have introduced a new clause within the Terms of Supply which means calves can only be euthanised on-farm when there are humane reasons for doing so.

From 1 June 2023, Fonterra farmers must ensure all their non-replacement calves enter a value stream -either beef, calf-veal or petfood. We understand sale options in parts of New Zealand are currently limited, which is why we’re actively collaborating with the wider industry, investing in R&D and exploring long-term solutions such as dairy-beef partnerships and opportunities.

Goals and targets

Animal wellbeing plans for all our farms

Ultimately, we want to see animal wellbeing plans on every farm which supplies milk to Fonterra. We’re starting right here in New Zealand, with our 2020/21 season target: animal health plans on more than 60% of Fonterra supply farms.

Lower our global SCC even further

Udder health is important component of overall health for cows – and good health is important for animal wellbeing. We want to continue to lower our global somatic cell count (SCC). Our target for the 2020/21 season is a global weighted mean of 170,000 cells/ml.