A new tool to assess the critical points of management and their impacts on the welfare of calves and heifers was recently developed by researchers at Laval University, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and Valacta. 

The development and implementation of these types of assessment tools are a critical counter-balance to the legislation approach to animal welfare that groups such as the Humane Society of the U.S. employed recently in California and Ohio, says Peter Krawczel, Ph.D. student at the Miner Institute in Chazy, N.Y.

In setting minimum standards or banning certain practices, legislative approaches do not allow for the flexibility to solve specific welfare problems at the farm level, notes Krawczel. A better approach, and the one used by the aforementioned researchers, relies on the assessment of critical points of the management. This allows consultants, auditors, or producers to identify the main risk to welfare on each farm and formulate a specific plan to solve the area in which management is found to be insufficient. 

The initial and critical step to this type of approach is the identification of critical points and appropriate targets for each (i.e., not so high that they were impossible for any farm to achieve and not so low that problem areas were not detected).

This new advisory tool was first drafted using the available scientific literature and then a draft of critical areas, the goals for each, and the specific components of the assessment that would be used for data collection on farm were reviewed by a panel of dairy experts, including an agronomist, a dairy farmer, a veterinarian, a technical advisor, and two researchers.   All material related to the advisory tool was revised until a consensus was achieved. 

The advisory tool contains the following critical areas and targets:

  • Calving management, including regular observation of calving area, use of calving pen, separation of sick animals, sanitation of calving area and cow comfort within calving area.
  • Care of newborn calves and pain abatement, including disinfection of navel immediately following birth, clear identification of calf and management of painful procedures, standard operation procedures for dehorning including timing and use of analgesic.
  • Colostrum management, including colostrum offered within four hours of birth, monitoring amounts of colostrum consumed during first feeding, assessment of colostrum quality, minimum IgG concentration of colostrum offered, feeding limited amounts of colostrum only when excellent quality was offered or difficulty in feeding encountered, adequate stock of frozen colostrum maintained and regular verification of the success of the transfer of passive immunity.
  • Calf nutrition, including a milk-feeding plan for calves written and followed, delivery of more than two gallons of milk per calf per day, appropriate feeding schedule followed, milk offered in container using a nipple, waste milk not used, unrestricted access to clean water at two days of age, a written plan for solid feed in place and followed, and unrestricted access to concentrate in clean, functional feeders.
  • Weaning, including waiting until appropriate age and concentrate intake and use of a progressive weaning method.
  • Housing of calves, including clean and comfortable housing with sufficient bedding provided.
  • Heifer feeding, including unrestricted access to clean, functional waterers, nutrition plan in place and followed, and unrestricted access to forage in clean, functional feeders.
  • Heifer housing, including clean, comfortable housing with sufficient bedding provided and access to pasture (when weather-appropriate).
  • Monitoring protocol, including records of mortality and sickness, recording of growth rates and evaluation of hoof health.

Access the complete advisory tool.

Source: William H. Miner Institute