Dairy Heifers

Care4Dairy has developed best practice guides on four key life stages in dairy production: dairy calves, heifers, lactating cows and end- of- career cows. Each best practice guide is a compilation of fact sheets that summarise the latest scientific and technical evidence to support animal welfare. They adopt a user-friendly solutions-based approach and have been developed in partnership with the dairy sector.

UCD Gabi Marquette heifer with calf1


Each fact sheet describes good and best practice and is structured according to four key pillars of animal welfare: feeding, housing, health and behaviour. Some topics may be relevant to more than one life stage and this is indicated at the start of each factsheet.

The life stages are characterised as follows:

  • calves are defined as bovines from birth to 6 months of age 
  • heifers are usually 7-24 months of age 
  • adult cows are 2 years plus 
  • end of career- animals can be any age between 2 years old until the end of their productive life either due to natural culling, illness or injury 

Information on the care of bulls has been indicated in the relevant text, although this life stage group was not within the direct scope of Care4Dairy.

In addition to the guides, several EU member states have shared examples of “success stories” where best practice solutions have been used in training, on farm assessments and communication tools. Further resources are provided to support the best practice guides.

Fact Sheets

The best practice guide for dairy heifers consists of five factsheets, covering care specific to heifers, and others which are relevant to heifers and cows.

Best Practice Guide
Heifer Best Practice Guide

Best practice farms optimise the quality and performance of their heifers by providing tailored nutrition in a clean, safe and enriched environment which supports optimal health, welfare and human-animal interactions.

Best practice farms optimise the quality and performance of their heifers by providing a clean, safe and enriched environment which supports optimal health, welfare and human- animal interactions.

Best practice farms optimise the health and welfare of their heifers through veterinary consultation, planning and documenting their prophylactic and responsive health and medical management protocols. 

Best practice farms have confident heifers who express a range of positive natural behaviours by providing an enriched indoor & outdoor environment with kind, animal- centred human- animal interactions.

Gabi Marquette heifer group in straw bedded pen


Heifer nutrition
Heifer reproduction
Heifer behaviour
Heifer environment
Heifer health

Success Stories

There are a number of initiatives currently being implemented in the EU and beyond, to encourage adoption of welfare friendly practices on dairy farms. In this section we highlight examples where groups have successfully collaborated to share resources on animal welfare topics with farmers. Farmers have been involved in the design of many of these tools. These resources combine a range of formats, all designed to encourage adoption of animal welfare friendly practices on farm:

  • Exchanging information and practices between peers, including short videos from farmer to farmer.
  • Initiatives to support transition to best practice
  • Infographics which summarise good and best practice, in a concise and easy to read format.

Miimosa is a funding platform dedicated to supporting transition to regenerative agriculture of dairy farms in France. It is co- funded by Danone and public money.


DANONE website

DANONE website


To further support the implementation of the Care4Dairy best practice guides, a number of additional resources have either been developed or existing relevant resources identified.

Optimising the environment for heifers

Best practice farms optimise the quality & performance of heifers by providing a clean, safe enriched environment to support animal health & welfare.

UCD Gabi Marquette heifer with calf 5