Genetic advancements have resulted in improved dairy production over many decades, due to the focus of breeding objectives on production as the driving force for genetic progress and overall farm profitability. Major advancements were made in the easy-to-measure traits with moderate to high heritability, which resulted in unintended consequences on herd fertility, health, and welfare of cows. In addition, climate change and animal welfare concerns demanded balanced breeding objectives and selection approaches for sustainable production—including health and longevity. The challenge for improvement of cow welfare often lies within implementation of sensitive and measurable parameters. Thus, the aim of the review of the authors cited was to explore the reconsideration of breeding objectives in the dairy industry towards sustainable dairy production and cow welfare with reference to selection of dairy animals in South Africa.

Dairy cow welfare is recognized and promoted in the S A dairy industry through various organizations, which include the MPO, Milk SA and the DSA. According to the code of practice for milk producers by the DSA, animal welfare is dependent on both sensible and sensitive animal husbandry practices. As a result, most intensive dairy farm practices in the country ensure animal welfare primarily through their management systems, being supported by skilled and trained personnel. Also, many SA dairy farmers have followed world trends with application of balanced selection indices.

The review indicates that a number of animal welfare assessment programs demonstrate the overall welfare status of the farm as a single score or index. This, however, has the disadvantage that indicator data must still be integrated. Although some degree of subjectivity is inevitable, it is essential to include a multi-criteria assessment that incorporates various indicators. The incorporation of animal welfare standards has experienced a slow rate of change, despite the accumulation of scientific evidence and increase in social concerns. Factors attributed to this slow change include economic restraints, social challenges, and fixed traditions. Cow welfare traits, specifically claw disorders, lameness, and mastitis, remain complex, and suitable phenotypes are not always easy to measure or readily available for genetic evaluation.

In conclusion, due to the multi-factorial nature of cow welfare, indicators are needed for identification of relevant traits and adding new phenomes to include breeding objectives for more sustainable dairy production. Technology advancements and genomics have added benefits for selection of health and welfare traits, which should be pursued.