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3 Open Minutes with Fred Gingrich

Progressive Dairy Editor Walt Cooley Published on 11 March 2020

At the beginning of 2020, AABP updated its production practice guidelines for dehorning calves, and one of the significant updates was a recommendation for pain mitigation.

Progressive Dairy Editor Walt Cooley and Dr. Fred Gingrich talk about this change, what it means for on-farm implementation and about how the association goes about creating and updating its guidelines. Gingrich is a dairy vet by training and the association’s current executive director.



Fred GingrichFred Gingrich
Executive Director

National Cattle Veterinary Association

Tell me a little bit about your experience as a vet working in the dairy industry.

Gingrich: I graduated in 1995 from Ohio State University, and I practiced for two years in central California in a large dairy region, and for the past 20 years, I practiced in Ohio, primarily in a dairy practice. In 2016, I accepted the job as the executive director of our national cattle veterinary association.

What you do on a day-to-day basis as the executive director?

Gingrich: Now instead of taking care of clients and cows, I take care of members. Our organization provides our members with current and relevant continuing education about cattle, both in the beef and dairy sectors.


We have a couple of big meetings every year. We put on webinars, so I help to manage the logistics of those. I’m also the financial officer of our organizations. So one of my main roles is ensuring that we are being fiscally responsible with our members’ dues because we’re primarily funded by our 5,000 members in the U.S., Canada and internationally.

My third role would be advocacy. We work with allied organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association, National Milk Producers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and then state regulatory and legislative bodies, as well as groups like the FDA and USDA, to provide our input and expertise.

Could you explain what the production practice guidelines that AABP creates are, and the process for how they get created?

Gingrich: Several years ago, our organization felt it was necessary as the leading cattle veterinary association to provide some guidance on various management and production procedures we do to cattle. Our guidelines and position statements are publicly available on our website – They’re used by allied organizations, regulatory and legislative bodies; and, we hope, veterinarians and dairy producers as they perform the various things they do on a day-to-day basis on farms. We have guidelines and position statements on everything from the veterinarian-client-patient relationship to antimicrobial stewardship, euthanasia, transportation, lameness, dehorning and castration.

Our guidelines are created by experts within our organization, and they’re reviewed on a regular basis by a working group of our members. Because we are a science-based organization, they are reviewed usually every three to five years. This working group looks at the current scientific literature and determines if the guidelines need revised, rescinded or just re-approved as written.

How do these guidelines get used in the industry?


Gingrich: Primarily, the guidelines are used for advocacy. We see these not necessarily for legislative purposes. We hope that veterinarians can utilize the guidelines to demonstrate to cattle producers how they should be doing various procedures.

They’re used extensively, for instance, by National Milk Producers Federation. They use our dehorning guideline, our veterinarian-client-patient relationship guideline and our euthanasia guideline. They look to us as the leading cattle veterinary association to assist them as they’re developing the standards for their FARM program audits.

Tell me about the recent changes to AABP’s production practice guideline for dehorning. What should producers and vets be aware of?

Gingrich: This guideline was first put out several years ago, and we talked at that time about some of the pain management options in the various types of methods that could be done to dehorn or disbud calves. And the new guideline was recently revised. We wanted to provide it to National Milk Producers Federation as they were updating their fourth version of the FARM program.

The major points in the current guideline that was just approved by our board are, first, the age at which the procedure should be done. By 8 weeks old is what NMPF is recommending, and AABP fully supports that. The other thing that’s different in this guideline is: We took a stronger, proactive approach to managing the pain that’s associated with the procedure. Pain management for dehorning is considered to be the standard of care.

What research or changes have instigated the need for these updates?

Gingrich: The research shows that all methods of dehorning – caustic paste, using an iron to either burn the horn-producing cells or mechanically scooping out the cells – all of those things cause pain. There are several well-established scientific studies that have been published – for instance, by Dr. Hans Coetzee from now-Kansas State University – that shows these procedures cause pain.

One of the difficulties is assessing pain in animals because cattle are prey animals, so they hide pain. We all know cows are pretty good at hiding pain until it’s pretty severe. But researchers look at not only behavior but also certain endocrine or chemical substances within the body like cortisol and substance P in plasma concentrations. Those increase when there’s pain. They’ve demonstrated those substances increase in every type of dehorning procedure. And then we have to ask ourselves: Can the pain be managed legally and practically with what we have available today?

And the answer to that is also yes. Although we don’t have drugs that are specifically labeled for addressing dehorning pain or treating dehorning pain, a veterinarian has the ability to prescribe drugs in an extra-label manner to address the pain associated with dehorning. Dehorning is a necessary procedure that causes pain, which we can manage. And so therefore we feel as an organization that it is the standard of care that pain management during dehorning should always be provided.

Do you think we’ll see more products eventually labeled specifically for procedural pain mitigation in the future?

Gingrich: I would hope we can have new drugs that are available to manage pain and maybe even long-acting, cost-effective drugs that can be used for pain management, not just for dehorning. Unfortunately, getting a drug to market in the U.S. costs millions and millions of dollars. However, there are drugs available for pain management that aren’t necessarily labeled for pain management which are perfectly legal to use in cattle under an extra-label prescription.

Do you have any idea how many people are following the guidelines you’re putting out?

Gingrich: With dehorning, and some of the other production practices like the veterinarian-client-patient relationship, if you look at the data from National Milk Producers Federation, pretty much all of the dairy farms that have gone through a farm audit are required to follow these practices, so the adoption rate is very good.

The last several years, every animal I dehorned or castrated got pain management. And in my protocols for client farms where they would do the procedure themselves, they implemented the pain management protocols. In my practice, I didn’t have any problem getting my producers to incorporate pain management because after they saw the way the calves acted after using the appropriate pain management procedures, they knew it was better for the animal. And the research also demonstrates that as well, in terms of weight gain and disease prevention after the procedure.

What feedback have you received about this change?

Gingrich: We’ve received both positive and negative. On the positive side, our members were pleased with the fact that AABP took a strong position advocating for the welfare of the animal in providing pain management as the standard of care. One of the things our board discussed when they were having the discussion on standard of care was: Is there a situation where a calf would not receive the benefit of pain-relieving medications when dehorned? No one on our board could identify a situation where you wouldn’t do it. There really isn’t a reason not to do it. Pain medication is not expensive. It’s easy to administer. It takes literally seconds.

We’ve had some instances where producers are using caustic paste within the first 24 to 48 hours of life, and they’ve questioned whether or not those animals need pain management.

There was a study published in 2017 by Dr. Charlotte Winder from Canada that demonstrated that calves which have caustic paste applied have increased heart rate and higher pain indicator substances within their blood. Those indicators are all improved with the addition of pain management to the use of caustic paste.

Peer into your crystal ball and describe what you see on the horizon for dairy animal care.

Gingrich: As a dairy industry, we always have to be proactive in addressing things that perhaps customers are concerned with. I think there are things we do that people don’t understand. We can educate them on why we do certain things, and so long as we can show a benefit and doesn’t cause undue harm to the animal, then I think we can justify those practices.

Animal welfare and antibiotic use are absolutely the two biggest hot-button issues I deal with every day from an advocacy standpoint. The third one probably is environmental stewardship. As an industry, we also can’t support bad actors or instances where a producer is violating that contract we have with the animal.

Those three areas are where we need to constantly address concerns and make sure we’re doing the right things at all times.

What’s the best advice a dairy vet should be dispensing to his or her clients right now? Or put another way: If the vet isn’t talking about it, what should a producer be asking his or her vet about right now?

Gingrich: I think that’s a great question. We all know the last five years have been really tough. They’ve been tough for dairy producers and then, in turn, that’s tough for dairy veterinarians. We feel the economic pain of our clients as well as, unfortunately, the loss of many dairy farms over the last three to five years.

I think now what we have to realize as dairy producers is that we’re in the sales business, and we have to make a product the customer wants to buy. The customer has a lot of choices now, and the customer has access to a lot of false or misinformation. So I think dairy producers need to ask your veterinarian: Where are the risks on my farm? What do I need to do to make sure I have a product that my customer, which isn’t necessarily the consumer but the milk processor, wants to buy?

That question will address a whole range of things from milk quality to environmental stewardship to how clean your cows are and how well they’re cared for. It’s a holistic approach now to make sure the product that we make is something that has access on the market. I think we can all really look at what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis to make sure we accomplish that goal.  end mark

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