Animal Welfare Demands Will Keep Coming

Some dairy companies are urging farmers to finds ways to keep newborn calves with their dams for more than 24 hours. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

While dairy farmers might be weary of all they’ve had to do to comply with animal welfare standards over the past decade, more requirements are on the horizon. “The animal welfare train is moving rapidly, and it’s hard to keep up,” says Nigel Cook, a veterinarian and animal welfare specialist with the University of Wisconsin.

Welfare activists, well-funded and well-organized, continue to relentlessly push their agendas, he says. Activists have discovered they can influence the decisions food companies make by linking cases of animal abuse with branded food products.

“It’s all about brand name protection. Companies do not want their brand names affiliated with one of these abuse videos,” says Cook.

These food companies, in turn, push back on the companies that supply them milk and dairy products. “Milk procurement companies have enormous power to evoke rapid change,” says Cook. Farms must comply with requirements or they don’t get to ship milk. And more requirements are coming.

There is zero tolerance for poor animal handling. Farms will also be asked to provide more accountability in terms of providing more training in animal care and handling, and provide records that show that training has occurred. “Activist videos often capture poorly trained people making bad decisions,” says Cook.

Looking to the future, some of the welfare challenges on the horizon over the next two to five years include:

  1. Criteria for immediate euthanasia. Welfare programs will push for an earlier decision on when to euthanize, such as when cattle that are unable to maintain an upright sitting position, where they are bleeding uncontrollably, or have suffered a catastrophic injury, such as a broken limb.
  2. Continuous improvement in lameness scores. The FARM program currently allows for 5% of cows to be severely lame, while the standard for Dean Foods Dairy Well program is just 1%. “It is likely these thresholds will continue to strive toward zero for severe lameness—animals that are barely able to walk,” says Cook. “These represent a failure to prevent and a failure to treat promptly.”
  3. Hock injuries. Globally, herds have 50% of their cows with hair loss on hocks due to friction—rubs on uncomfortable surfaces. Deep bedding goes a long way in reducing these problems. “This will drive the move away from mat and mattress surfaces already seen in the Midwest, where 70% of herds have adopted deep, loose bedding,” Cook says.
  4. Skeletal injuries. Future audits will likely begin recording knee, neck and back injuries and broken tails. “Often, these problems have herd specific issues that need to be addressed, such as low feed rails or poor stall design,” he says.
  5. Tie stalls will also come under greater scrutiny because they restrict animal movement and a cow’s ability to groom herself. Cows should be given access to outside areas for 2 to 6 hours of untethered exercise, says Cook.
  6. Cow-calf separation at birth. “Separating calves from cows immediately after calving does not sit well with consumers,” says Cook. That may create some disease control issues, particularly for Johne’s disease and Salmonella Dublin infections. But some companies are already urging their farms to find ways to keep calves with their dams for more than 24 hours, he says.

There will also be increasing pressure to reduce reliance on hormone and antimicrobial use, which consumers couple to animal welfare discussions. “We are already seeing a steady shift toward selective dry cow therapy in low SCC herds and less antibiotic use for treatment of clinical mastitis--limiting antibiotic use to Gram-positive infections determined by culture,” he says. “We’re also seeing less reliance on reproductive hormone treatments with the integration of activity monitoring.”

While all these requirements may seem daunting, most will improve the health and well-being of cattle. “And many of these things will improve your bottom line economics as well,” says Cook.

Submitted by Frustrated farmer on Mon, 12/17/2018 - 12:16

The demands will not stop. When will the FARM program realize it will never satisfy animal welfare activists and quit catering to them? I've seen this program continue to grow in its requirements and the power it has to completely shut down dairies with its ridiculous demands. I fear where it will end up.

Submitted by Frustrated NY dairyman on Tue, 12/18/2018 - 05:53

If increased scrutiny of our animal care practices and changes to the way we operate allowed us to gain market premiums it would one thing. All of the extra cost and workload offers zero return. It is insane that we are forced to add “ value” to our product just to have access to a market that does not cover the average cost of production. Well done FARM program! You have trapped us in a new form of regulation driven by hysteria and misinformation.

Submitted by Son-of-Butch on Tue, 12/18/2018 - 06:08

The article would carry more weight if it named companies rather than just saying some companies, so that nothing can be verified.

Submitted by Lifelong dairy man on Tue, 12/18/2018 - 06:09

You identified the end goal 'Frustrated farmer'. Eliminate animal agriculture. Turn us all into vegans by force. How do we stop our coops and milk buyers from forcing this down our throats? This article clearly identifies one huge part of the problem, our Universities are infected with morons, who are the ones teaching (infecting) the next generation. Unless this article mischaracterizes Nigel Cook, it seems his kind are a huge part of the problem, where is the push back? When my coop told me we had to sign on to the FARM program a couple years ago, I told my field rep they would be unemployed if the true goal of these people came about. Looks more likely everyday.

Submitted by Bob Kilmer on Tue, 12/18/2018 - 10:12

I believe it’s time for some education and push back against organizations that want to end the livestock industry. We as farmers put our livestock’s needs ahead of our own most times. Calves are removed from their dams for their own health and safety, it’s about caring, not cruelty. Animals will become sick, injured, or just old and crampy, it’s just a fact of life, not cruelty. The lion doesn’t lay down with the lamb, he eats it, the lion is not cruel because he exists, it’s life. Farmers care more than most, even more than people with good intentions and a severe lack of knowledge

Submitted by Alfred Wanner on Tue, 12/18/2018 - 11:16

People who are concerned about separation of the mother and calf do not work with animals and do not realize that the calf can be injured by its mother stepping on the calf's leg or smothering it by lying on it. We have valid reasons for doing what we do.

Submitted by Guedo on Wed, 12/19/2018 - 05:02

Cook is a fool, plain and simple. Please name one thing that has been forced on dairy farmers that has increased the pay price for milk?