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Assessing Cow Comfort

October 3, 2011
By: Catherine Merlo, Dairy Today Western and Online Editor google + 
cow comfort1
“Farm animal care and welfare programs will only make life better for the animals, the workers and the owners,” says James Reynolds, veterinarian and animal welfare advocate.  

Cow care through the eyes of an animal welfare auditor

Clipboard in hand, James Reynolds walks through a 5,000-cow dairy near Hanford, Calif.—and likes what he sees.

The sand-bedded freestalls are not only wide but 4" longer than the 48" recommended for Holsteins. Under the roof, water sprinklers are cooling cows in the September heat. The walkways are clean. There are exits if cows decide to wander into the adjacent open lot. Fresh water fills the troughs, and feed lanes are heaped with rations.

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But mostly, Reynolds likes what he sees in the cows. They’re lying comfortably in their shaded freestall beds, calm and curious as visitors approach. Body condition scores are good: Cows are neither too thin nor too fat. He sees no signs of lameness or hock lesions.

"This dairy owner is doing things right," says Reynolds, a professor of large animal medicine and welfare at Western University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Pomona, Calif., and longtime advocate for animal welfare.

The dairy is one of 2,500 that the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program has evaluated since 2010—part of at least 50% of the U.S. milk supply that has implemented FARM so far.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) created the voluntary program to verify to consumers that U.S. milk producers humanely care for their animals.

Reynolds is passionate about safeguarding the well-being of dairy cows. He supports the FARM program and its three key components: serving animals; providing a process that con-sumers will find credible and in the animals’ best interests; and ensuring it’s fair and practical for farm owners.

"All three must work for the program to succeed," Reynolds says. "The FARM program does that. It’s a very good, straightforward, practical evaluation of the welfare of animals on a dairy."

FARM’s second-party evaluations are conducted by veterinarians, coop-erative field staffs and university Extension people. The two- to three-hour evaluations include a 77-point questionnaire for the dairy’s manager and an assessment of operations and cow conditions. Evaluators later

provide the dairy a status report and recommendations for improvement.

Reynolds believes the FARM program is helping educate producers to manage animal welfare, not fear it. Its second-party evaluations are neither pass nor fail, and it’s up to the dairy owner to implement any suggestions. An evaluator can point out a lameness or mastitis problem and leave the solution to the owner.

"A fix sometimes involves only a small part of the dairy," Reynolds says. "You don’t have to fix it all at once."

cow comfort2Third-party objective evaluations began on Sept. 6 on randomly selected U.S. dairies. These are being conducted by Validus, FARM’s official third-party verifier. NMPF expects the initial round of third-party verifications to be completed by year-end.

Reynolds works with Validus as an independent contractor for third-party audits of dairy, swine and poultry operations around the world.

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FEATURED IN: Dairy Today - October 2011

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