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Cow comfort tool: How do you measure up?

Published on 01 December 2014
Clemence Nash Right

A team of researchers from the Universities of British Columbia, Calgary, Guelph and Laval developed a cow comfort tool that helps producers measure how well they are meeting the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals: Dairy Cattle.

With funding provided under the first Dairy Research Cluster (Dairy Farmers of Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and the Canadian Dairy Commission), the multi-disciplined team devised the tool in a way to help identify management and environmental modifications that could improve dairy cow welfare on farms.

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The tool addresses critical areas of dairy cow comfort, including accommodation and housing, feed and water, and health management. Two hundred and ten farms were surveyed in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta in the study.

Targets of good practices were identified from the requirements and recommendations of the code of practice. Each farm received a score for each target, ranging from zero (target not reached) to 100 (target reached).

Data were collected on management, housing and animals. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) were developed to ensure consistency in measuring and recording data.

As part of this process, periodic checks were performed by trainers to evaluate the consistency of scoring among the 15 assessors to ensure they all remained above the 85 percent agreement level.

An evaluation report was provided and discussed with each producer, identifying strengths and areas for improvement that could benefit dairy cow welfare on their farms.

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There was a large variation between farms (25 to 95 percent) on how well targets were reached. More than 90 percent of surveyed producers were convinced of the effectiveness of the cow comfort tool at assessing cow welfare and helping them make decisions for improvements.

The standard operating procedures and cow comfort tool developed are available on the Dairy Research Portal in the Producer Resources section. 

For more information, contact Shelley Crabtree, communications officer, Dairy Research Cluster.

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PHOTO
Clemence Nash, right, a researcher from the University of Guelph, uses the cow comfort tool to help a dairy producer identify management and environmental modifications that could improve dairy cow welfare. Photo provided by the University of Guelph.

Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) is the national policy, lobbying and promotional organization representing Canada’s farmers. DFC works to support sustainable dairy production; facilitate solutions to provincial/national challenges; provide credible research of dairy products on a national basis; and create innovative ways to grow the market.

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