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THE MOO NEWS

Newsletter of Penn Dutch Cow Care April 2007

Hi Folks,

Perhaps you've read in the agriculture newspapers about an increasing focus on animal welfare recently. Talk of animal welfare for farm animals has been building up in both the conventional and organic sector over the last few years. Having just attended a meeting with 50 other professionals who are immersed in the dairy industry and talking about animal welfare for dairy cows and calves was very educational. I will be attending another meeting this month which will have a primary focus of animal welfare within the organic agriculture realm.

What do we mean when we say "animal welfare"? In short it means really good animal husbandry practices to optimize the well being of farm animals. There really is no hidden agenda and it is not rocket science - it is the basic kindness and caring for which we, the stewards of God's creation, need to carry out on a daily basis. It definitely includes the basics for good health that I have written previously about - fresh air, sunshine, dry bedding, correct feeding, jumping on problems as early as possible and the like.

Animal welfare can be reflected in many ways and by viewing the farm as a whole unit, we can get a sense of different levels of welfare throughout the dairy sector. Since I do believe cow health is the bedrock of any further animal welfare, certain items come to mind. In the simplest sense, milk quality and milk quantity will not be optimized if the animals are not in good health. This can be reflected in DHIA records or receipts from the milk company. Length of life (longevity) of cows in the herd would also reflect general welfare at the herd level. Looking at this a little closer, we would separate out voluntary from involuntary culling. Voluntary culling means you are selling a cow to open up a spot in your herd for a higher producing animal and the animal being sold is being sold for dairy purposes. Involuntary culling includes all other reasons for selling a cow: illness, reproduction/fertility problems, high somatic cell count (SCC), low production due to health problems, etc. Other illnesses like retained placenta and metritis will impact upon a cow's reproductive performance and increase days open / decrease conception rate. Herd rates of metabolic disease (milk fever, ketosis) and infectious disease (pneumonia, coliform mastitis) also reflect general welfare of animals on a particular farm. In simple terms, there is probably a fairly good level of animal welfare when there is the least metabolic, reproductive and infectious problems.

Also at the herd level, we can look at the percent of cows that are lame. This does not necessarily only mean severely lame, but other shades of more slight lameness. Lameness is often scored on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being sound and 5 being so lame that the animal doesn't want to move. Most people who study lameness say that there shouldn't be more than 3% of a herd with a score of greater than 3 (obviously lame) for the herd to be with little lameness. Consider that surveys have found an incidence of 15-25% lameness in herds based on gait scoring. Another herd level item is body condition scoring. There are standardized score cards that grade body condition of dairy cows between a 1 (skinny) to 5 (fat). Most experts in the dairy industry recognize that stage of lactation plays a major role in the body condition score of a normal cow. These same experts also say that there should be no #1 or #5 in any herd. If there are (especially the #1 skinny / boney cows), serious problems exist and there needs to be a plan to determine the cause and treat it before it happens to other animals. On grazing farms, especially organic grazing farms, there do tend to be lean cows but there is a difference between lean and in good athletic condition versus outright skinny / boney. However, when one person is always with the herd, obvious problems can become blurred and not realized. This is why it is good to have a different person come onto the farm to score body condition on a monthly basis. Many nutrition companies as well as my self offer this service. As we come out of the winter months, cows should be in good flesh as they go out to pasture since pasture based nutrition tends to keep cows lean and fit to begin with. If cows are skinny going into the pasture season, it is very unlikely that they will gain body condition. One consequence of skinny cows is it is usually more difficult for cows to show heats if doing AI. This is due to negative energy balance. This may be off-set by the phyto-nutrients of new spring pasture, however. While neither too fat nor too skinny condition is good, I guess I'd prefer a slightly leaner animal when it comes to calving time. Over-conditioned cows tend to mobilize body reserves of fat through the liver creating ketosis or outright fatty liver, which will cause many other problems (like not cleaning properly and a twisted stomach). I rarely see over-conditioned cows on organic farms.

But true animal welfare definitely goes beyond these basic kinds of herd measures, however. For instance, it is a well recognized fact that dis-budding (de-horning) calves is extremely painful - not just at the time of dis-budding but also for days afterwards. When I mentioned to the animal scientists at the meeting that I often see calves suck on a finger or bottle right after dis-budding and my perception, therefore, is that the procedure therefore didn't bother them, they quickly pointed out that there is a reflex to eat in order to blunt pain. Boy was I enlightened. Banding bull calves and docking tails by banding causes intense pain for weeks as well. Very carefully designed studies have shown many behavioral changes in calves that have been banded using no pain relief versus those which were banded and given pain relief and those not banded at all. While many may think that since a certain procedure has always been done a certain way and why should procedures change now, perhaps think of the potential increased growth of calves if they are not in pain for days or weeks at a time. Less stress can also reduce their susceptibility to other common diseases they may be challenged by (scours/pneumonia). But above all, remember that the animals under our management deserve the best possible care since they are entrusted to us by our Creator. This should be reason enough by itself.

These kinds of animal welfare issues have been written up in Hoards Dairyman as well. With this kind of information in mind, it makes me strongly inclined to use analgesia (pain relief) when dis-budding and recommending follow-up of at least arnica for a number of days afterwards. In organic herds, we are allowed to use lidocaine for a local block and it is very cheap as well. Make no mistake about it, animal welfare issues are coming under the spotlight in both the conventional and organic world. By actively thinking about the level of care we give to the animals entrusted to us, we will always be able to explain to others why we do what we do.

Arden Landis has certified organic calves for sale. Call 717-529-6644 or 717-314-3399. Ben Allgyer, 6218 Plank Road, Narvon, has cows for sale. 717-442-9129 Amos S. Lapp, 68 Morrison Mill Road, Kirkwood, has 5 male 10 week old Blue heeler pups for sale at $50 each.

 

For Bovinity Health, information on functional alternatives to antibiotics see:
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