Caring for Animals

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

Antibiotics must only be used must be for therapeutic or curative treatment following guidance from, and consultation with a veterinary surgeon. Prophylactic antibiotic use is not permitted. Our predominantly pasture-based cows have low levels of disease, therefore our farmers do not need to use antibiotics very often. Our two largest milk pools, New Zealand and Australia, representing 99.7% of our global milk supply, have been ranked as the 3rd and 5th lowest users of agricultural antimicrobials respectively1.

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:

  • The total mass of antibiotics sold in New Zealand for use in agriculture continues to decline, with the fifth consecutive annual decrease in volume sold. 

  • All registered Dry Cow Therapies in New Zealand contain either penicillin (cloxacillin ± ampicillin) or first generation cephalosporins. 

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.

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 wellbeing.

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.

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

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 used on any of our supplying farms in New Zealand, Australia, or Sri Lanka. 

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.

  • 99.8% of the cows in our supply chain have access to pasture.

Avoidance of painful procedures
  • 100% of the cows in our global supply chain are free from routine tail docking.

  • 2.3% of the dairy calves in our global supply chain are free from disbudding. 

  • 99.2% of the calves disbudded in our global supply chain are given pain relief at the time of the procedure.

  • 100% of the cows in our supply chain are free from dehorning. 

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.

Pre-slaughter stunning
  • 99.7% of the cows in our global supply chain are subject to pre-slaughter stunning.
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 94% 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:

  • OIE Section 7.0 – Terrestrial Animal Health Code
  • Chapter 7.1 – Introduction to the recommendations for animal welfare,  Articles 7.1.1 to 7.1.4;
  • Chapter 7.3 – Transport of animal by land;
  • Chapter 7.5 – Slaughter of animals;
  • Chapter 7.11 – Animal welfare and dairy cattle production system
The Co-operative Difference

Fonterra’s Co-operative Difference framework is now into its fourth year of existence. For the 22/23 production season farmers will be paid up to 10 cents per kilo of milk solids if they adopt certain sustainability and milk quality practices.

We know that farmers who actively focus on animal health and welfare and who have a good relationship with their veterinarian usually achieve better animal wellbeing. The Animals focus area recognises this and requires farmers to develop an Animal Wellbeing Plan with their vet. At a minimum, the plan must discuss how the farm is going to make improvements in the areas of:

  • Mastitis
  • Lameness
  • Mortality
  • Body Condition
  • Antimicrobial use
  • Provision of shade and shelter
  • Genetic influences of animal wellbeing
  • Calf nutrition
  • Calf health
  • Calf housing 

For more information on The Co-operative Difference, including details of the payment scheme and other sustainability focus areas, click here.

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 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 collect and verify a range of animal welfare performance data from all our supplying farms in New Zealand. This data is combined with other information sources and analysed to identify farms at risk of animal welfare compromise. Those farms are proactively visited and support offered should any concerns be identified. Through this novel approach we promote the value of positive welfare to our suppliers, and proactively support them to ensure welfare standards are maintained.

Our internal audit and review process has led to improved sensitivity in the system and a refinement of the metrics we examine. We are now confident enough in our Cared for Cows process that we have had our standard certified by AssureQuality, an independent Conformity Assessment Body.

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.

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. 

We have produced a series of educational videos about calf rearing and an accompanying guide, for people looking to start rearing calves themselves, or brush up on their skills.

In Australia we have developed a Healthy Calves module for farmers to complete as part of their Farm Environment Plan

In Sri Lanka we have a central training facility where farmers can learn more about animal care, as well as field offices who will go out to farm and run local discussion groups.

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

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.


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.

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.

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 22/23 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 standards of animal wellbeing. In recognition of this, our farmers must develop and implement an animal wellbeing plan with their veterinarian in order to achieve within The Co-operative Difference.

In 2023, over 80% of our New Zelaland suppliers had an Animal Wellbeing Plan. In 2024 we're aiming to increase that to over 90%. Our ultimate goal is to have an Animal Wellbeing Plan on every Fonterra farm.

Somatic cell count monitoring

Somatic cell count (SCC) is not only an indicator of milk quality, a low SCC also gives an indication of good animal husbandry.

The FY23 SCC has been adjusted for divestments. Calculated on a like-for-like basis the FY22 global weighted average would be 174 (‘000 cells/ml).

Therefore, the overall global result is stable this year and remains well below the European Union import/export standard of 400,000 cells/ml, which is a widely quoted standard. We will continue to work towards lower counts.

Somatic cell count average (mean) ('000 cells/ml)







New Zealand

























Sri Lanka





Global weighted average (by volume)






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 23/24 season target: Animal Wellbeing Plans on more than 90% of Fonterra supplying 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 2023/34 season is a global weighted mean of 170,000 cells/ml.