Healthy, well cared for animals are not only more productive, they are also less of a financial burden for farmers. Investing in preventative health to reduce or prevent painful procedures in the herd is simply good business.
Animal welfare standards
The Australian dairy industry is committed to striving for the best standards of health, welfare and care for animals in the sector throughout their lives. To achieve this requires everyone in the dairy supply chain to adopt and comply with the latest animal welfare standards and recommended practices.
The Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle provide a basis for developing and implementing legislation and enforcement across Australia. They also outline what farmers ‘must-do’ and 'should-do' to ensure they are meeting expectations of the dairy industry and state governments when it comes to animal health and welfare.
The current and future priorities for providing the best quality care for cows are detailed below.
Euthanasia of livestock
Occasionally, euthanasia is required to prevent or minimise the pain and suffering of sick or injured animals. That is why dairy farmers are actively encouraged to ensure they can administer on-farm euthanasia in line with best practice.
It is important those in charge of caring for dairy animals have the skills and resources to ensure that when euthanasia is required, it occurs in a skilled and timely manner. The industry policy on euthanasia states dairy farmers must create provisions for the use of a licensed firearm or captive bolt device. Farmers are also required to provide adequate training for staff.
Euthanasia by blunt force trauma should not occur on Australian dairy farms. However, it is allowed for emergency situations when a calf is under 24 hours old, is in severe pain or distress and there is no practical alternative.
Separating cows and calves
As the importance of managing community perceptions of cow-calf separation grows, it is clear a better understanding is needed on the practicalities of any management methods for farmers and their impact on animal health and welfare based on research. Some data exists which suggests that immediate cow-calf separation can help mitigate Johne's disease.
Management of surplus calves
The welfare and management of surplus dairy calves – both male calves and non-replacement heifers – is a key area of focus for the industry. It is possible that this priority issue will result in an increased uptake of sexed semen for breeding replacement heifers and the concurrent use of beef genetics for non-replacement calves.
A key challenge for the Australian dairy sector is to identify alternatives to early life slaughter, which are both economically viable and socially acceptable. The dairy industry – along with the beef, meat processing and retail industries – are working collaboratively to find new ways to utilise dairy breed animals and reduce bobby calf processing rates in times of lower beef demand. Dairy Australia is funding several projects to help make this a reality and prioritise the welfare of bobby calves.
Industry policy stipulates that there must be provision of pain relief for all calves during disbudding, which must take place while the animal is under two months of age. The use of pain relief for a wider range of husbandry practices may be required in future to meet community expectations.
Routine calving induction was phased out from 1 January 2022, and veterinarians should seek dispensation for any routine (non-therapeutic) calving induction to be performed on dairy farms.
Dispensations will only be granted for exceptional emergency situations beyond the control of the farmer, such as natural disasters or unavoidable health events. Applications are reviewed by Dairy Australia and the Dispensation Panel, which includes representatives from Australian Dairy Farmers, Australian Cattle Veterinarians and Australian Dairy Products Federation.