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Animal welfare assessment reinforces producer’s efforts

Progressive Dairyman Editor Karen Lee Published on 31 March 2015
Andres family

Nearly two years into its 10-year timeline, the proAction Initiative is well underway. Four technical committees have been established to focus on animal care, biosecurity, traceability and environment.

These committees are charged with developing assessment programs with proposals to be submitted at the July 2015 Dairy Farmers of Canada annual general meeting.

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Earlier this year, a three-month pilot project was launched to test the assessment program for the animal care module, which is based on the requirements of the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle. Dairy producers from across the country with farms of all sizes volunteered to participate in this project.

Michael Andres, who farms near Steinbach, Manitoba, was one of the first producers to undergo an on-farm validation as part of the process. “Maybe ‘A’ came up sooner on the list,” Andres jokes.

He is the third generation on his family farm. Andres and his wife, Kim, have four children, and they milk more than 100 cows in a tiestall barn. The herd is comprised of purebred Holsteins and the farm sells breeding stock and bulls from its herd.

In addition to the dairy herd, Andres farms 1,200 acres in corn, alfalfa, cereals and canola. This covers most of the feed for the dairy, but he does purchase a little protein.

All dairy producers in Manitoba have already committed to the program. “As a group, we made that decision,” Andres says. “Since it is still in the pilot phase, those that participate now will be able to try it and weigh in on how it should be permanently structured.”

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Prior to the validation visit, Andres says he attended an informative meeting to learn what is expected of dairy producers. The draft animal care assessment program covers five main areas: housing, feed and water, animal health and biosecurity, handling and shipping animals, as well as staff training and communication.

In his province, the on-farm validation is conducted by one of two individuals hired full-time by Dairy Farmers of Manitoba. Andres was notified via a phone call five days prior to the visit.

Even though producers don’t need to be present for the entire evaluation, Andres says he wanted to be there to see what they were looking at. It was fairly casual, he reports.

“At the end of the day, I thought it was really good. I had some reservations and was a little defensive at first, but by the time we went though everything, they reinforced I am doing a good job,” Andres says.

The validator started the inspection with how the farm appeared from the road and as they drove up the farm lane. Once on the farm, they looked at the condition of the facilities from maintenance and cleanliness to proper lighting and fly and rodent control measures.

Andres opens his farm to international and school tours, so he’s already fairly conscious of farm appearance. “We want them to see the positive, not the negative,” he says.

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The validator also inspected milking and cooling equipment. Andres says one of the gaskets in his milk house inked a little black, and he was given a lesser mark on his evaluation because of it.

“It was a quick fix, and we changed it right away,” he says. “Now we’re able to schedule the replacement more often, and I know what measurement the assessor will use.”

Knowing someone will regularly evaluate and check up on the farm might encourage more farms to stay on top of items they might otherwise overlook.

“It is a motivator we all need. There is always another job that needs to be done and this makes it more of a priority,” Andres says.

From an animal standpoint in the evaluation, cows are scored for cleanliness, particularly their flanks and udders. In addition, veterinarians need to score a representative portion of the herd annually for body condition scores and neck, hock and knee lesions. This must be done prior to the assessment with the results presented to the auditor.

The farm must also present treatment records and standard operating procedures for dehorning, castrating and extra teat removal.

If there happen to be docked tails in the herd, Andres says producers need to document why and when the tail was docked. This amount of animals with docked tails is expected to decrease in percentage over time.

Overall, he says, the grading is fairly straightforward. For each instance, a box is checked for acceptable, needs improvement, unacceptable or not applicable.

In the end, farms will be allowed a certain number of minor or major demerits. Too many in either category may mean the farm is in jeopardy of being shut down.

For now, because it is still in its pilot phase, there is some flexibility. Producers in the pilot have the chance to see what the requirements are and have the time to make changes before the official program is initiated.

The goal of the pilot phase is to encourage participation and give producers a chance to become comfortable with the program. It presents the opportunity for producers to talk with the assessors on what qualifies for acceptable or unacceptable practices.

“It is a way of standardizing our practices for the betterment of the industry,” Andres says. “To make sure there aren’t any squeaky wheels.”

Plus, it will give program organizers an opportunity to gather constructive feedback and evaluate the current status of Canadian dairy herds before presenting the final program for delegate approval this summer. National deployment is scheduled to start this fall, with an introduction and training phase to the animal care module.

For most, the new assessment program should simply reinforce the steps farms are already taking for good animal welfare. “To get that confirmation that I’m doing a good job,” Andres says. “That’s nice to see.”  PD

PHOTO
Michael and Kim Andres, along their children, left to right, Dana, Carl, Lydia and Ryan, farm near Steinbach, Manitoba. Their farm was one of the first to undergo an animal welfare assessment as part of a three-month pilot project across the country. Photo courtesy of Michael Andres.

Karen Lee
  • Karen Lee
  • Editor
  • Progressive Dairyman

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