Wage war on our top 5 welfare issues

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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.


Tail docking

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.

I was at a farm this week and the dairy farmer told me “although tail docking prevents me from getting hit in the face by a dirty tail, there are other ways of managing this problem.”


Down cows/euthanasia

Perhaps the most frustrating case we see on dairy farms is the down cow that appears normal and yet cannot get up. We want to give her a chance, and we have hope she will survive. But life on the farm is busy and we often do not devote the good nursing care needed for these difficult cases. Cows that are down suffer pain within hours.

Euthanasia is a practice that is underutilized on many dairy farms today. In cases where an animal is lame, sore, down, not fit to cull, or beyond reasonable hope for a recovery, humane euthanasia it the best choice to relieve her suffering. Ask your veterinarian to review your euthanasia protocols to ensure you are performing this procedure correctly.


Shipping and transport

Do not ship cows that are lame! Do not ship thin cows or cows treated with medication that have not undergone an appropriate drug withdrawal period. Do not overload trailers. Load cows on trailers gently to prevent injury. Take care of that cow as she leaves your farm to give you her last dollar – she deserves it.

Your veterinarian is an excellent resource to review these welfare issues on your farm. It isn’t just good business, it’s the right thing to do.


Fred Gingrich, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and owner of Country Roads Veterinary Services, Inc., in Ashland, Ohio. Contact him via e-mail: mailto:kfgdvm@gmail.com.

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Wisconsin  |  June, 25, 2014 at 08:15 PM

Amen Brother. Great article

Laura Yanne    
Vermont  |  June, 25, 2014 at 10:15 PM

This is breakthrough commentary by Dr. Gingrich. In identifying the top 5 welfare issues that demand improvement on dairy farms, he not only underlines prevailing industry opinion (i.e., condemning tail docking, which was identified as unnecessary by the AVMA, in a 2002 DHM editorial, and more recently by Hoard's Dairyman)--but without disparagement, he refers to the important documentation videotaped by animal welfare groups. He also acknowledges the point of view of concerned consumers. "If you cannot dehorn while being videotaped for the world to see, perhaps you should be doing it differently," Dr. Gingrich advises. He remarks, "Activist group videos always show cows with sores," and asks, "How many of your cows have sores or swollen hocks?" A simple question, for which the answer is that if you have any such afflicted cows, you could and should implement better methods and practices. Your vet will advise you. is heartening to see this confluence of attitude and opinion in the pages of DHM. The list of these 5 welfare issues pertaining to routine husbandry practices is not just a list of suggestions, and it's stronger than a call to action--it's an exhortation for the industry to "wage war" on what's wrong. Enlist now! It IS the right thing to do!

new york  |  June, 27, 2014 at 07:18 PM

Tail docking and dehorning are management decisions that are best left to the individual farmer. You claim we should dehorn for safety reasons but then advocate to not tail dock. The safety and welfare of the farmer and workers are important too and if they decide that tail docking improves the work environment then who are you to say otherwise? I leave the horns and tails on my cows unless they give me reason otherwise and will continue to do so. I find it funny when people ask me about all the bulls I have, believing that only bulls have horns. Yes we can all do better with lameness but if I went out in the general public and asked the first 100 or 1000 people to list there ailments the list would be long so are cows more or less healthy then the general population? JMHO

new york  |  June, 27, 2014 at 08:31 PM

I would much rather spend money on defending tail docking and dehorning then rBST, GMOs, cloned bulls etc...

Illinois  |  June, 29, 2014 at 02:54 PM

This all sounds great. Maybe we don't draw the line in the sand on tail docking. But where do we draw it? Do we all become "cookie cutter" dairy farmers and follow SOP's generated by people who have never tried to make a living from milking cows?

new york  |  June, 30, 2014 at 11:06 AM

More like gingerbread farms, I believe the soviets tried this.

SC  |  June, 30, 2014 at 01:33 PM

Do not ship thin cows? Please explain.

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