Do You Have An Animal Welfare Plan?
Jul 17, 2014
The absence of an animal care program on your dairy is a ticking time bomb just waiting for an undercover video. Here’s how to start your program.
By Travis Thayer, Diamond V
In my role as Dairy Technical Trainer with Diamond V, I work with dairy producers to help their employees understand the "why" behind the protocols that they are asked to follow (milking, feeding, fresh cow treatment, calf care, maternity, etc.).
With the recent flurry of animal activist videos showing grievous cases of animal abuse, I am increasingly asked to talk to employees about animal welfare, down cow care and basic animal handling, with the goal of preventing any of these types of unfortunate situations on their farms.
Many dairies are very progressive and have solid animal care programs in place before I ever step foot on the farm. In that case, I just review the issues of public perception and humane animal care with the employees and go over the protocols that are already in place.
However, some dairies have not yet fully implemented programs to train and direct employees with protocols on proper animal care. This is a ticking time bomb just waiting for a video that could result in loss of your market and livelihood, and will decrease consumer confidence in our industry. Consumers are increasingly interested and aware of where their food comes from, and they want to feel confident that the animals in your care are treated humanely.
Following are a few key points to consider in the animal care program on your operation:
It Starts at the Top
Create an animal care agreement (in employees’ appropriate native language) that employees must sign stating that they understand that animal abuse on your farm is not tolerated and will result in immediate termination. It should also include a statement that employees are expected to report any abuse they observe on the farm by other employees, and that failure to do so will result in their termination as well. Hold a meeting to discuss the issues and let employees know that proper animal care is expected. From that point forward, make the animal care agreement part of new employee training, and consider periodic meetings to reinforce these guidelines with all employees.
Have a Plan
Consider the following questions:
• Do you have a plan to safely (for people and cows) and humanely move non-ambulatory animals out of tight spots (milking parlors, holding pens, alleyways, etc.) without dragging them or otherwise causing additional harm?
• Do you have a down cow care protocol that lays out proper animal care guidelines, including timely, humane euthanasia, if necessary?
• Do the employees have access to all the tools they need to do the job safely and humanely?
• Are the employees aware of the protocols, and have they been properly trained to execute them?
If the answer to these questions is yes, great! You are way ahead of the game. But, if you answered no to any of these questions, it is time to review your program and make changes.
Behave as if Everything You Do is on Video
I advise owners, managers, and employees to always act as if you are already on video. If you are doing something that you would not feel comfortable seeing on YouTube, rethink what you are doing.
Several of the videos out there not only show physical mistreatment of animals, but are also accompanied by audio with language that might make a sailor blush. Consider the following situation that shows up on video:
You have a cow that just slipped in the alley. She looks alert and strong and you think she can get up on her own, and she is in a place that allows her the space to do so. You make sure she has good footing, and you slap her on the rump to startle her to get up, lifting her tail to help, and when that does not work, you decide to touch her once with a hotshot to see if you can get her to make the effort. This is an acceptable, humane attempt to help her get up.Now overlay two different audio tracks that go with the video:
First Audio Track: The handler is speaking words of encouragement in a caring voice – "Come on, mama." "You can do it!" "Almost there!" accompanied by gentle sounds, kisses, clucks, etc.
Second Audio Track: The handler shouts loudly, in anger and frustration and releases a string of cusswords that they would never utter in polite company. "Get up you miserable ****!"
Which audio track is likely to convey compassion and caring, and instill confidence in the consumer that this animal is being taken care of humanely? Attitude is everything. It is natural to be frustrated, especially when one is very busy and has a lot of work to get done. Take a time out. Count to 10. Go get a drink. Take a break. Do whatever it takes to get your emotions under control and do the best job you can to help the cow. If she is unable to get up on her own after a reasonable attempt at encouragement, follow your non-ambulatory cow protocol to move her to a safe, clean, comfortable place where you can give her proper treatment and supportive care.
Consult Your Herd Veterinarian
Veterinarians are the best resource for proper animal care protocols on your farm. Ask a veterinarian familiar with your farm to review and/or create protocols on your farm, unique to your facilities. They can offer solutions for proper non- ambulatory cow movement, down cow treatment protocols, and proper euthanasia techniques.
Accidents happen on farms sometimes, creating unpleasant situations that need to be managed properly. Anticipate and plan, and they can be resolved in a humane way that shows that you care.
Travis Thayer, DVM, is Dairy Technical Trainer for Diamond V. Based in California, he can be reached at 510-910-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.