Animal care practices

Good animal care is achieved through a combination of compliance with regulations and Codes of Welfare and the increasing adoption of best practice. Best practice is supported by Fonterra and other industry bodies.

Feeding animals

In New Zealand, most dairy cows produce milk seasonally for manufacture. Most are milked in spring, summer and autumn, but dried off in winter when pasture production is lower.  The seasonal milk production system relies on highly productive, rotationally grazed pasture.

The warm climate and productive pastures in the main dairy farming areas of New Zealand make it possible for herds to graze in pasture year-round; reducing the need for feed supplements including grain.

Regulations specifically do not allow the use of Bovine Growth Hormones or Estrogenic substances and animals must not be fed ruminant protein.

Animal disease

New Zealand enjoys a low incidence of disease in dairy cattle relative to the rest of the world. In particular, New Zealand is free of the following diseases:
  • Brucella abortus
  • Brucella melitensis
  • Rinderpest
  • Infectious pleuropneumonia
  • Sheep and goat pox
  • Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow disease)
  • Foot and mouth disease

Veterinarians are regulated and well-trained to assist dairy farmers with animal health and welfare

They are regulated by a Code of Conduct and are the “gate keepers” for all restricted veterinary medicines used in dairy animals

Medical treatment of animals

Regulations require that:
  • Farm dairy operators must only supply raw milk from healthy animals.

  • The dairy farm operator must obtain veterinary supervision or advice when a problem with milking animal health is suspected

  • Animals which are sick or diseased are treated to ensure resolution of the condition and to alleviate unnecessary pain and distress
  • Farm dairy operators must keep records of animal health and treatments.

  • Ensuring the use of veterinary medicines is appropriate and recognised for the condition being treated in milking animals

In New Zealand and Australia the use of hormonal growth promoters (e.g. rBST) are prohibited by regulation. This accounts for more than 95 per cent of the raw milk that we collect.

We do not support the use of hormonal growth promoting substances for increased milk production nor the use of antimicrobials for improved feed conversion efficiency. Antibiotics must be used prudently with the aim to optimise therapeutic efficacy and minimise the risk of development of antibiotic resistance. Fonterra therefore does not support the prophylactic use of antibiotics for dairy production. To achieve this Fonterra is actively developing responsible use strategies with the key stakeholders responsible for the supply and management of antimicrobials.

All Fonterra farm diaries are assessed annually and the animal health records are checked as part of this assessment


Tail docking

Tail docking of cattle is not permitted in New Zealand.

Tail shortening is permitted but limited to removal of the last two to three vertebrae of the tail (switch removal). Best practice, which Fonterra encourages, is to only remove the switch on cows where hygiene is compromised and all other options to maintain good hygiene have failed.

As part of our annual farm dairy assessments we ensure that the switch removal practice complies with the Code and have been kept at minimal (should only be carried out as a last resort).

Humane Slaughter

Legislation in New Zealand and Australia requires all animals to be humanely slaughtered. Slaughter carried out at commercial slaughter premises should always be subjected to pre-slaughter stunning.

Fonterra supports this legislation, which accounts for more than 95 per cent of the raw milk that we collect globally.


We currently estimate that more than 85 per cent of the animals producing milk for supply across our international network are free from confinement. All supply bases are subject to audit.


Fonterra aims to avoid tethering wherever possible. If cattle have to be tethered or tie stalled, they must, at a minimum, be able to lie down and stand up unimpeded. Our audit reports of our international milk pools indicate less than 2 per cent of animals are tethered.

Download the Fonterra Farmers’ handbook 2017/2018

Completion of the 2017/2018 Dairy Diary is a condition of milk supply for all Fonterra Farmers

Animal management performance

Cows in New Zealand have one of the world’s lowest annual replacement rates, indicating cows have long and productive lives. The average replacement rate is 21 per cent with cows averaging 4.5 lactations with a calving interval of 368.4 days. These two measures jointly reflect high reproductive performance which can only be achieved under conditions of good animal management

2017 Fonterra Co-operative Group