Better Comfort, Better Farm Performance: Research leads to development of “How-to” for animal comfort improvement

Better Comfort, Better Farm Performance: Research leads to development of “How-to” for animal comfort improvement

By : Elsa Vasseur, University of Guelph (Alfred Campus), evasseur@uoguelph.ca

Since 2010 I’ve been working with dairy scientists and students from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Universities of British Columbia, Calgary and Guelph (now my university base) and Université Laval, as well extension specialists from Valacta Inc., on a project to develop a tool to assess and improve the comfort of dairy animals in tie-stall and free-stall barns in Canada (Dairy Research Cluster (2010) dairyresearch.ca). It has been an amazing experience on many levels. In the end, we were able to design a tool that is easy to use and that can effectively help farmers make immediate changes to improve the well-being of their animals and ultimately their farm’s performance.

I designed the cow comfort tool as an ‘adult’ version of a tool previously designed in collaboration with my colleagues from Quebec in 2009 to assess rearing management of dairy calves. The calf tool has been a great success with very positive results.

Developing an assessment for cow comfort is a tedious process and our success in completing it was due to the extent of the strong collaboration between our team of researchers across Canada. And only possible with the valuable input and leadership we received from the industry – the end-user of this tool. We used the Dairy Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle as the reference to set up targets to achieve. The tool is designed to help producers assess how well they are meeting the Code of Practice and identify management and environmental modifications to potentially improve dairy cow comfort on their farms. The assessment tool is composed of several documents to allow a complete assessment of risk factors and outcome measures of cow comfort (including: questionnaires, in-barn checklist, detailed SOPs, scoring documents). A copy of the tool and its documents can be accessed on dairyresearch.ca. (https://www.dairyresearch.ca/animal-comfort-tool.php)

It is fantastic to receive positive feedback from the producers that were evaluated (and who did not always receive top scores!). Comments like ‘very useful’, ‘will help me to improve things on my farm’ were received. Furthermore, the uptake of the tool by Dairy Farmers of Canada to help develop the DFC-NFACC animal care assessment program, which is now part of the proAction Initiative: On-Farm Excellence, proves how timely we were to develop research material that could be directly used by the industry and benefit farmers across the country.

To view a copy of the scientific article: http://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(14)00738-3/abstract

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