A team of Canadian researchers and their students visited 240 farms in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta between January 2010 and August 2012. They evaluated the comfort of cows in tie-stall farms, free-stall farms and farms with robotic milking.
Dr. Anne-Marie de Passillé of the University of British Columbia and research collaborators at the University of Calgary, Université Laval, University of Guelph and Valacta developed a tool to evaluate cow comfort by measuring factors on the animals like lameness, body condition score and injury, housing and other facilities as well as herd management. At the end of each visit, a report on the farm’s strengths and weaknesses in light of the requirements and recommendations from the CODE OF PRACTICE FOR THE CARE AND HANDLING OF DAIRY CATTLE – 2009 was presented to the dairy producer and discussed to cover any areas that may require improvement.
The team’s results showed that dairy producers are doing well for some measurements and need to improve others. A large number of the requirements and recommendations from the Code of Practice are applied on the farm. However, some dairy farms are showing problems with lameness and with hock, knee and neck injuries. These problems can be reduced through low-cost, easy-to-implement solutions. The results also suggest that, like productivity and reproduction, the variables associated with welfare (mainly lameness and injuries) are related to the longevity of tie-stall cows, estimated by the percentage of cows in their third lactation or more. Their analysis also showed that the factors associated with longevity vary greatly between Quebec and Ontario.
Dairy producers that were part of the study appreciated the On-farm Cow Comfort Evaluation Tool. A follow-up study by the team revealed that over 70% of the producers visited in Quebec and Ontario made changes on the farm further to the discussion of their report of their farm’s results.
Dr. de Passillé recently presented these results to farmers in Quebec and a copy of her presentation and the measurement tools used are available in the Producer Resources section of www.dairyresearch.ca in both languages. In a follow up study starting in January 2014 under the second Dairy Research Cluster, researchers will measure the economic and productivity advantages of following the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle and develop a simplified advisory tool that dairy farmers can use to improve cow longevity.