The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) wants to see a better way of handling compromised cull dairy cows.
It’s calling for greater co-operation amongst producers, their vets, as well as transporters, processors and cattle marketers.
In a resolution adopted at its annual summer meeting, the CVMA says cull dairy cows “have an increased likelihood of suffering when exposed to transport-related stressors.”
Proper handling will come from “on-farm animal welfare-based cow culling decisions and the national standardization of dairy cow best management practices.”
The group said dairy producers bear the primary responsibility for appropriate culling decisions, and should work directly with their herd veterinarian to develop a farm-specific culling strategy. While farmers need to work with their vet on specific on-farm protocols to optimize the welfare of cull dairy cows, Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) needs “to continue to develop, enhance, and implement effective on-farm animal welfare programs to improve the well-being of all dairy cattle.”
Co-operation among stakeholders is essential to limit welfare risks to cull dairy cows before and after they are removed from the farm, CVMA said.
Last year, the Canadian Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Council also called for improved handling of cull dairy cows so suffering animals proceed to slaughter humanely rather than spending days in transport and handling facilities.
Its report contained 19 recommendations, developed with input from DFC and veterinary experts, on cull cow management and shipment to avoid long journeys.
DFC spokeswoman Therese Beaulieu said the industry has moved to address the situation in several ways during the last few years.
“We have made a proposal for training for farmers, and have asked government if it would like to co-invest in this initiative – and we will do it whether we get funding or not,” she said.
She added that the “chain of custody” during transportation is a very challenging issue.
“Does the onus always fall on farmers who ought to have made better or more timely decisions on culling?” she asked. “Should farmers always have to think cows will spend more than three days in transit for whatever reason or decision that is made after the cow has left the farm? Some cows are fine when they leave the farm, but are not a few days later, because they have been travelled from one spot to another.”
While some provinces have a direct-to-slaughter designation, there are few-and-far-between plants that take cull dairy cows, she said. “There is so much more that has been done and is being done on the topic of transportation – from transporter courses, new federal regulations that we are waiting for – to various initiatives in the provinces.”
The CVMA said emphasis needs to be placed on culling animals before they become compromised and at a higher risk of transport-related deterioration.
“Although dairy cows are commonly culled in good condition, many have pre-existing physical limitations and health conditions that may compromise their welfare during transport and increase the risk of transport-related injury and suffering,” the CVMA statement read.
Producers and veterinarians need to be aware of the potential for multiple journeys and routes as cull dairy cows are moved between auction markets and to slaughter, it said.
“Cull dairy cows must be assessed for fitness prior to each intended journey and only transported and auctioned if determined to be able to tolerate the intended processes without suffering. Cull dairy cows require an evaluation and may require extra precautions prior to and during each transport.
Alternatives to routine marketing through auction markets include transport direct to local slaughter, on-farm slaughter, mobile slaughter, or on-farm euthanasia, CVMA said.
The group said producers should “closely monitor their dairy herds and work closely with their herd veterinarians to cull cows prior to them being at risk during transport. Veterinarians have a responsibility to promote the humane treatment of animals and have a key role in educating their clients on the selection of animals which are fit for transport.”