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Research Review: From the Journal of Dairy Science: Cull cow treatment, business impact of attitude and behaviour

Pedro Nogueira for Progressive Dairyman Published on 28 February 2019

This column brings you information regarding some of the research being done around the world and published in the Journal of Dairy Science (JDS). The objective is to bring to light areas of research that may have an immediate practical application on a dairy farm, as well as research that, even though may not have a practical impact now, could be interesting for its future potential application. The idea is to give a brief overview of select research studies but not go into detail on each topic. Those interested in further in-depth reading can use the citations to find each study.

“Hot topic: Management of cull dairy cows – Consensus of an expert consultation in Canada.” Vol. 101, Issue 12, Pages 11170–11174, December 2018 –This article summarizes interesting and important work done recently about culled cows in Canada (removed from the milking herd and sent for slaughter or salvage).

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Some are healthy animals culled because of low production or failure to breed, or simply to rejuvenate the milking herd, but many are culled because of compromised health.

As such, a degree of handling and transport suitable for a healthy animal culled because of low milk production may be unsuitable for an animal very thin or lame, making the management of these cows a significant welfare challenge.

Culled cows may experience multiple handling events, change of ownership among dealers and feed and water deprivation during transport and at livestock markets.

The objectives of this study were to describe the diverse management of cull dairy cows and establish consensus on ways to achieve improvements.

This is not only a welfare issue but an economic issue as well, since carcasses can be condemned due to quality unconformities.

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To this end, the authors convened a two-day meeting with 15 experts in the field (farmers, veterinarians, regulators, experts in animal transport, auctions and slaughter) from across Canada.

From this meeting, eight consensus points were reached: to assemble information on travel times and delays from farm to slaughter; to increase awareness among producers and herd veterinarians of potential travel distances and delays; to promote pro-active culling; to improve the ability of personnel to assess animal condition before loading; to identify local options for slaughter of cull dairy cows; to investigate different management options such as emergency slaughter and mobile slaughter; to ensure all farms and auctions have, or can access, personnel trained and equipped for euthanasia; and to promote cooperation among enforcement agencies and wider adoption of beneficial regulatory options.

It was also suggested to implement research in certain areas that could help guide industry policy, actions and codes of practice and inform revisions to the Transportation of Animals regulations, which currently do not make explicit provision for cull dairy cows.

“The extent that certain dairy farmer attitudes and behaviours are associated with farm business profitability”. Vol. 101, Issue 12, Pages 11275–11284, December 2018 – This interesting article, from researchers in Ireland and the United Kingdom, tries to shed light on the impact attitudes and personal attributes of 80 dairy farmers in Great Britain have on the profitability of those farms, over a three-year period.

These type of factors that influence farm business performance is only partially understood. Farmer beliefs and attitudes have been found to be associated with farm profitability although they have received relatively little attention as drivers of farm profitability, especially when contrasted with factors such as enterprise type and farm scale.

However, the few studies in this area indicate farmers’ management thinking, attitudes and beliefs were strongly predictive of dairy farm profitability, more than farmer behaviours and actions.

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They defined attitudes and beliefs as: An attitude is an expression of favour or disfavour toward a person, place, practice or event. A belief, or conviction, is a psychological state where someone holds a specific premise to be true or not.

As they are closely related concepts, along with goals and objectives, they were grouped under the term “attitudes.” Behaviours relate to a person’s response to particular situations or stimulus.

For example, a specific management practice (such as benchmarking) is considered a behaviour. Example statements or questions related to behaviours included: “I buy most of my inputs from one or two local suppliers,” and “I don’t usually pay for staff training, as they may leave after or I would rather do it myself.”

The study consisted of a questionnaire containing 83 questions, and it was developed in 2012. The main behaviour associated with profitability was the respondents’ agreement with the statement that their farm business is profit-oriented.

Those not agreeing with this statement strongly had much less profitable businesses. Some of the variables in the model related to the participants’ attitudes towards self-learning and staff skills and knowledge.

Those who think novice staff do not require training and development had less profitable businesses. Those who learned a great deal in their teens did not think novice staff need training and appeared to underestimate the value of training and skills.

Having a growth mindset entails believing people can change and develop their behaviour over time.

This study only examined dairy farmers in Great Britain, and repeating the study for farmers with other types of enterprises and from other countries would be of value.

Including other farmer attributes, such as personality and general cognitive ability, is also likely to increase the proportion of variation in outcomes explained significantly.

In this study, certain attitudes and, to a lesser extent, behaviours of farmers and farm managers were found to predict farm profitability. These were, in descending order of importance, having a profit objective, having a growth mindset and indicators of conscientiousness and emotional stability.

Several other variables were also correlated with farm business profitability but did not warrant inclusion in a final multivariate regression model examining other variables.  end mark

Pedro Nogueira
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