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Animals (Basel). 2019 Apr 16;9(4). pii: E172. doi: 10.3390/ani9040172.

The Welfare of Cows in Indian Shelters.

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Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics, School of Veterinary Science, The University of Queensland, Gatton Campus, Australia 4343, Australia.
RSPCA Queensland, Wacol, QLD 4076, Australia.
Faculty of Arts and Social Science, The University of Sydney, New South Wales, 4343 Australia.


Cow shelters (gaushalas) are unique traditional institutions in India, where aged, infertile, diseased, rescued, and abandoned cows are sheltered for the rest of their life, until they die of natural causes. These institutions owe their existence to the reverence for the cow as a holy mother goddess for Hindus, the majority religion in India. There is a religious and legal prohibition on cow slaughter in most Indian states. A cross-sectional study was conducted to assess the welfare of cows in these shelters, which included the development of a welfare assessment protocol, based on direct animal-based measurements, indirect resource-based assessments, and description of the herd characteristics by the manager. A total of 54 cow shelters in 6 states of India were studied and 1620 animals were clinically examined, based on 37 health, welfare, and behavior parameters. Thirty resources provided to the animals, including housing, flooring, feeding, watering, ease of movement, cleanliness of facilities, lighting, temperature, humidity, and noise levels in the sheds were measured. The study showed that the shelters contained mostly non-lactating cows, with a mean age of 11 years. The primary welfare problems appeared to be different to those in Western countries, as the major issues found in the shelters were facility-related-the low space allowance per cow, poor quality of the floors, little freedom of movement, and a lack of pasture grazing. Very few cows were recorded as lame, but about one half had carpal joint hair loss and swelling, and slightly less had lesions from interacting with shelter furniture. Some shelters also had compromised biosecurity and risks of zoonosis. These issues need to be addressed to aid in ensuring the acceptability of these institutions to the public. This welfare assessment protocol aims to address the welfare issues and problems in the shelters, by providing feedback for improvement to the stakeholders.


India; assessment; cow shelters; gaushala; welfare

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