D3: Healthy Feet and more: improving dairy cow health and welfare
Chair: Katharine Leach (ORC)
There has been a focus on dairy cow health and welfare in a number of recent and current pro-jects. This session will report on two of them, with an opportunity to discuss different perspec-tives on animal welfare assessment.
Philip Day is very pleased he joined the Healthy Feet project. As well as herd lameness incidence being greatly reduced; yields have gone up, mastitis has also been tackled, fertility has improved, calving index is better, he has saved money and he believes his cows and his staff are happier. The measures he implemented as a result of discussions with the Healthy Feet Team were: improved walking surfaces, improved foot bathing regime, regular foot trimming, improved treatment timing, improved treatment facilities and improved diets. Other suggestions were rejected as they did not suit the farm set up or system. He has some advice for people setting out on the same route; Do the easy things first but don’t bury your head in the sand! Be patient (his results are over 4 years), be persistent and consistent. If you are interested in the project, DairyCo has taken it on; have a look at their website www.dairyco.net. The Farm and Forestry Improvement Scheme is giving out grants for improvements such as new crushes and footbaths starting this spring.
Results from the first exercise with the Soil Association showed that:
- Inspector knowledge was chosen as the most important factor when it comes to promoting discussion with farmers.
- Positive conclusion and follow up, interest in farm and business and positive encouragement and empathy were also considered very important activities and attributes for assessors.
- New suggestions were made; that peer group pressure (e.g. other farmers are doing…) could also be useful when promoting discussion with farmers; better farmer preparation for inspection (e.g. paperwork and directing assessors on farm) would probably make the inspection quicker and run more smoothly. The second exercise looked at welfare measures
- Everyone agreed that it is right and very important to look at animal based measures rather than only concentrating on resources.
- Some discussion about the fact that not all of the listed measures were animal based (e.g. heifer survivability and cull and casualty cows are record based).
- All measures listed were thought to be very important, with a particular focus on mobility of individual cows, body condition and response to stockman.
- Some additional measures missing from the list could be:
- Abnormalities in behaviour (stereotypes, increased aggression); but, how to measure this? Just noting down any incidents noticed at random throughout the herd or spending actual time observing a set number of cows?
- Other nutrition related measures e.g. dung consistency;
- Length of life;
- There was a general agreement that joint scoring (by farmer and assessor) is the best option for an inspection. Joint scoring is the way to go!
The full list of points discussed is available – please contact Katharine Leach
- In the long run it is cheaper to tackle herd lameness than continue paying out for individual cases.
- It’s not too late to be a part of the Healthy Feet Project with Dairy Co
- Inspector knowledge is extremely important when promoting discussions with farmers.
- Looking at animal based welfare measures in addition to records is a positive move for all.
Individual speaker presentations and abstracts
Phillip Day (Merrimoles Dairy Unit): The Healthy Feet Project and beyond (PDF 405KB)
Philip Day is Farm Manager at Merrimoles Farms, a 1000 acre organic mixed farm with a 150 cow dairy herd. In 2007, the farm joined the Bristol University “Healthy Feet Project”, which aimed to reduce lameness in dairy herds. Following discussions with project staff, farm staff and the farm’s vet, the agreed actions were to improve walking surfaces, establish a regular foot bathing regime, invest in cattle crush with foot trimming facilities, ensure regular trimming and timely intervention for lame cows, and improve diet, especially for transition cows. Over five years, this has resulted in a substantial reduction in both the number of cows lame at annual mobility scoring, and the number of cows needing treatment. Philip has calculated that the cost of implementation, spread over five years, amounted to £2500 per year while the cumulative saving on cases of lameness avoided since the start of the project (assuming a conservative cost of £180 per case) is estimated to be £14040. The investments have had additional benefits beyond lameness reduction, further increasing their cost effectiveness.
Iain Rogerson (Soil Association) and Federica Monte (University of Bristol): Animal welfare and certification – improving the links  (PDF 366KB)  (PDF 405KB)
The session starts with a brief update of the progress of the AssureWel project and its work on developing potential welfare outcome assessment measures to use in farm assurance/organic certification assessments on dairy farms. The main part of the session is an exercise asking you to give your (the farmer’s) perception of farm assurance procedures and the interactions between farmer and assessor. You will be asked to score a series of quotes and suggestions made by a group of Soil Association farm assessors which might promote discussion with farmers on the management of their livestock and establish whether farmers share the same opinion as the assessors and how assessors can promote interest and discussion within the assessment. Participants will be asked to suggest potential welfare outcome measures for dairy cattle which could be used in farm assessments.