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Advisory tool for management of calves and heifers

Peter Krawczel Published on 10 January 2011

A tool to assess the critical points of management and their impact on the welfare of calves and heifers was recently developed by researchers at Laval University, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and Valacta. Their results were published in the Journal of Dairy Science and are summarized below.

The development and implementation of these types of assessment tools are a critical counter-balance to the legislation approach to animal welfare that groups such as the Humane Society of the U.S. employed recently in California and Ohio.

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In setting minimum standards or banning certain practices, legislative approaches do not allow for the flexibility to solve specific welfare problems at the farm level.

A better approach, and the one used by the aforementioned researchers, relies on the assessment of critical points of management. This allows consultants, auditors or producers to identify the main risk to welfare on each farm and formulate a specific plan to improve the area in which management is found to be insufficient.

The initial and critical step to this type of approach is the identification of critical points and appropriate targets for each (i.e., not so high that they were impossible for any farm to achieve and not so low that problem areas were not detected).

These were first drafted using the available scientific literature and then a draft of critical areas, the goals for each, and the specific components of the assessment that would be used for data collection on-farm were reviewed by a panel of dairy experts, including an agronomist, a dairy farmer, a veterinarian, a technical adviser, and two researchers.

All material related to the advisory tool was revised until a consensus was achieved.

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The advisory tool contained the following critical areas and targets:

1. Calving management – Regular observation of calving area, use of calving pen, separation of sick animals, sanitation of calving area, cow comfort within calving area.

2. Care of newborn calves and pain abatement – Disinfection of navel immediately following birth, clear identification of calf, management of painful procedures (SOP for dehorning including timing and use of analgesic).

3. Colostrum management – Colostrum offered within four hours of birth, monitor amount of colostrum consumed during first feeding, assessment of colostrum quality, minimum IgG concentration of colostrum offered, feeding limited amounts of colostrum only when excellent quality was offered or difficulty in feeding encountered, adequate stock of frozen colostrum maintained, regular verification of the success of the transfer of passive immunity.

4. Calf nutrition – Milk feeding plan for calves written and followed, delivery of more than 2 gallons of milk per calf per day, appropriate feeding schedule followed, milk offered in container using a nipple, waste milk not used, unrestricted access to clean water at two days old, written plan for solid feed in place and followed, unrestricted access to concentrate in clean, functional feeders.

5. Weaning – Not done until appropriate age and concentrate intake achieved, use of a progressive weaning method.

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6. Housing of calves – Clean, comfortable housing with sufficient bedding provided.

7. Heifer feeding – Unrestricted access to clean, functional waterers, nutrition plan in place and followed, unrestricted access to forage in clean, functional feeders.

8. Heifer housing – Clean, comfortable housing with sufficient bedding provided, access to pasture (when weather appropriate).

9. Monitoring protocol – Records of mortality and sickness kept, recording of growth rates, evaluation of hoof health. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request to

—Excerpts from William H. Miner Farm Report, October 2010

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