An assessment tool to help producers improve cow comfort on their farms.

Vasseur, E., Gibbons, J., Rushen, J.P., Pellerin, D., Pajor, E., Lefebvre, D.M., and de Passillé, A.M.B. (2015). "An assessment tool to help producers improve cow comfort on their farms.", Journal of Dairy Science (JDS), 98(1), pp. 698-708. doi : 10.3168/jds.2014-8224  Access to full text

Abstract

Effective management and an appropriate environment are essential for dairy cattle health and welfare. Codes of practice provide dairy producers with best practice guidance for the care and handling of their cattle. New Canadian recommendations have been established for the dairy industry. The objectives of this study were to develop an on-farm assessment tool that helps producers assess how well they are meeting their code of practice and that identifies management and environment modifications that could improve dairy cow comfort on their farms. The assessment tool addressed critical areas of dairy cow comfort, including accommodation and housing (stall design, space allowance, stall management, pen management, milking parlor, and transfer alleys), feed and water (body condition scoring, nutrition), and health and welfare (lameness, claw health, and hoof-trimming). Targets of good practices were identified from the requirements and recommendations of the code of practice. Each farm received a score for each target, ranging from 0 (target not reached) to 100 (target reached). One hundred tiestall and 110 freestall farms were surveyed in 3 provinces of Canada (Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta). The duration of the assessment, in 2 visits lasting, on average, 8 and 9 h (range between freestall and tiestall farms) and 4 and 4.1 h, was beyond the targeted 3 to 4 h due mainly to the animal-based measures; strategies to reduce the duration of the assessment were discussed. Standard operating procedures were developed to ensure consistency in measuring and recording data. Periodical checks were conducted by trainers to ensure all 15 assessors remained above target agreement of weighted kappa ≥0.6. Average scores for all critical areas ranged from 25 to 89% for freestall farms and from 48 to 95% for tiestall farms. These scores need to be considered with caution when comparing farms because scores could not always be calculated the same way between housing systems. An evaluation report was provided and discussed with each producer, identifying strengths and areas for improvement that could benefit dairy cow comfort on their farms. The producers were convinced of the effectiveness of our tool for assessing cow comfort (freestall: 86%; tiestall: 95%) and in assisting them to make decisions for improvements (freestall: 83%; tiestall: 93%). Our cow comfort assessment tool served as background material for the Dairy Farmers of Canada animal care assessment program.

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