Welfare audits can help improvecattle efficiency, expert says

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Welfare audits can help improvecattle efficiency, expert says

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Mar 01, 2004

Orlando-Animal welfare audits created for producers will help clients politically and economically.

The message came from Dr. Temple Grandin, associate professor of animal science at Colorado State University and owner of Grandin Livestock Handling Systems at the recently concluded North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC) here. NAVC hosted its first-ever food animal welfare symposium, which included talks from national experts on dairy, beef and swine.

Veterinarians can create and incorporate animal welfare audits on the farm to improve handling and ultimately efficiencies within the operation.

Grandin, a nationally recognized behaviorist, also assisted the American Meat Institute in developing standards for improving humane practices at slaughterhouses.

"A good audit can make all the difference in the world," Grandin says. "But when you tell people how to implement certain things, you have to be concrete, so they know what you are talking about, and the standards established have to be measurable."

Grandin divides animal welfare problems into two main categories:

  • abuse and neglect
  • boredom and restrictive environments

She advocates that DVMs create a checklist of audit points. The audits could be carried out by farm personnel after some training. The stategy could help prevent welfare problems. She adds that veterinarians and slaughterhouses all know the problem farms, because they see the animals.

Serious abuse cases come about when producers no longer see the animals as living beings, she explains.

"I have seen cases where there is just a complete disconnect." Grandin recounts one abuse case involving an egg producer who was cleaning up his coop by using an industrial vacuum and letting the animals suffocate in the tank. "That producer did not see these animals as living beings," she says.

And most practitioners have witnessed isolated cases of abuse, however, Grandin adds that small improvements on good farms can also pay big dividends in welfare and productivity.

To prove the point, Grandin has created critical control points for dairies as a way to measure welfare issues. She adds that the three biggest animal welfare concerns are abuse of newborn calves, lameness and handling of downer, non-ambulatory cows.

With new rules from the United States Department of Agriculture banning downers from entering the human food chain as another preventive measure to keep bovine spongiform encephalopathy out of this country, Grandin says it will become even more important to monitor welfare of cattle.

She recommends dairies include lameness as an audit point. Lameness could be measured as cows walk into the milking parlor. She recommends dairy personnel score 50 to 100 cows in the herd for limping. Five percent scoring with an obvious limp is considered excellent, she says. More than 10 percent with an obvious limp is not acceptable.

She adds that education to help producers employ acceptable methods when a downer occurs is also important. Dragging non-ambulatory cows onto a vehicle or on the ground is not acceptable, unless it is a very short distance. She adds that non-ambulatory downers should be euthanized on the farm if it is a poor prognosis.

Grandin adds that the flooring in a barn is also an important area to audit. In fact, she recommends scoring 100 cows going through the milking parlor. If 1 percent of these animals fall, they should fail that portion of the audit.

Feedlot cattleFor feedlot cattle, Grandin says that the three top welfare concerns include rough handling, heat stress and control of mud.

Grandin advises beef operations to put away the cattle prods and move to systems that can help move cattle without instilling animal panic.

She recommends putting up shades and blinders to prevent bright objects that may cause an animal to bolt, which causes injury to itself, other animals and even handlers.