Editor’s note. The following Health column appears in the July 2014 issue of Dairy Herd Management.
As dairy farmers and veterinarians, we work hard to care for the animals that take care of us. However, sometimes those of us on farms every day view abnormal things as “normal” when it comes to animal welfare.
As a veterinarian, I see things we could do to improve cow and calf welfare. We need to improve our practices relating to lameness, dehorning, tail docking, euthanasia and transportation.
Lameness is too common on dairy farms. What is your lameness rate? Do you know? Dairy farmers should work with their veterinarian to lower the rate of lameness.
Lameness due to infectious diseases such as foot warts can be controlled with a properly constructed footbath and appropriate chemicals. Lameness due to dirty wet conditions means we need to do a better job with bedding management and scraping. Lameness due to poor facilities or stall design means we need to make cow comfort improvement decisions.
Activist group videos always show cows with sores. How many of your cows have sores or swollen hocks? How many are dirty and covered with manure? These conditions are not normal, and can be solved with appropriate facility design and cow comfort.
Ask your veterinarian to do a facility consultation, honestly evaluating what needs to be done in the long and short term to improve cow comfort.
There is no reason any dairy animal over one month of age should have horns. There is also no reason for an animal to suffer pain when the horns are removed. Disbudding young calves is far less stressful to both the animal and the person doing the job. And, using local anesthesia in combination with oral pain medication is cheap and easy.
If you cannot dehorn while being videotaped for the world to see, perhaps you should be doing it differently. Ask your veterinarian about your dehorning protocols, and evaluate using polled genetics in your herd.
As an industry we need to move away from support of tail docking. A docked tail is one of the first things a non-dairy person notices, and they immediately ask me “why?” The public considers it cruel, and it is an animal welfare issue. Do we really want to draw our line in the sand over whether we can remove the tail from a cow?
Scientific evidence does not support tail docking as a means of improving cow cleanliness or udder health. There are other ways of managing problems that are perceived “solved” by tail docking.