July 11, 2018

Animal Behavior and Well-Being Symposium: Farm animal welfare management practices and consumer perceptions: Finding a common balance without jeoparding productivity

ASAS: Animal Behavior and Well-Being Symposium: Farm animal welfare management practices and consumer perceptions: Finding a common balance without jeoparding productivity - Sponsored by CSAS
By: Anne Zinn
The Animal Behavior & Well-Being Symposium at the ASAS-CSAS Annual Meeting highland speakers discussing farm animal welfare management practices and the consumer perception, specifically how producers and industry stakeholders can find a balance without jeopardizing productivity. The first presentation was given by Daniel Weary, Professor at the University of British Columbia, who gave an overview of public concerns and how to address them, using the UBC dairy farm as an example. Weary identified three ways the industry can choose to face public concerns and the side effects of each path. Ultimately, Weary suggested that two-way intentional engagement with the public and their concerns is the way to go. This means using social science research to inform biological research aimed at developing and assessing housing and rearing systems that better meet public expectations. To follow, Laura Solano, DVM, Ph.D. with the Farm Animal Care Association described the specific welfare concern in lameness in dairy cattle. Canadian producers rated foot and leg problems as the third most common reason for involuntary culling and Solano explained that, in a broad survey of industry stakeholders, lameness was ranked as the most important health issue. Solano outlined her team’s research that found across Canada, 22% of cows were lame while within-herd prevalence ranged from 0-69%, but lameness prevalence estimated by producers averaged 9%, which highlights the issues with detection. It was found that lameness was higher on farms with poor conditions of surfaces for standing and lying, and digital dermatitis was the primary for lesion affecting 22% of cows and 94%of herds. Solano outlined a mandatory on-farm animal care assessment implemented by the Dairy Farmers of Canada that allows every farm to be subject to evaluation of injuries, body condition,m and lameness by a third-party. While it is anticipated many producers will not meet prescribed standards, this is a big step towards alleviating the lameness welfare issues in dairy cattle production. 
Next, Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein, Ph.D. of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, spoke about the mitigation of castration pain in beef cattle and what it means for animal comfort, productivity, and consumer perception. Castration causes pain in beef cattle, regardless of age or method, and consumer concern and awareness regarding this routine management procedure in livestock is at an all time high. Schwartzkopf-Genswein began by reviewing current pain mitigation strategies (therapeutic and non-therapeutic methods) for both knife and band castrated calves and the effectiveness in controlling calf pain and improving calf comfort. Then, she discussed the relationship between pain mitigation strategies and calf-growth performance and encouraged continued research assessing new drugs, modes of administration, and alternative methods. Schwartzkopf-Genswein emphasized that focus on these strategies will help improve cattle welfare and consumer confidence.
In addition to Schwartzkopf-Genswein’s discussion of castration pain in beef cattle, Luigi Faucitano, Researcher at Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, presented on the validation of stress indicators for the assessment of animal welfare pre-slaughter and the production of meat quality variation, and Joao Costa, Assistant Professor at the University of Kentucky, presented on the nutrition, socialization, and housing effects of dairy calf and heifer management on welfare and the public perception. Faucitano outlined a new project that is being developed - a standardized and scientifically proven “custom-made” welfare assessment protocol, including criteria that are applicable to the Canadian pork production and marking conditions - to better control the variation of big behavior at the slaughter plant and overall meat quality. Costa ended the morning symposium by reminding attendees that the public is the most important stakeholder in the dairy industry, which is why it is very important to ensure current practices align with the public values on animal welfare. Costa discussed the negative effects of social isolation and dietary restriction and how these concerns may affect the future sustainability of the dairy industry. In line with the theme for the day, Costa recommended welfare-focused solutions that contribute to the industry and overall production, but are also accepted by the public.