WHILE PRODUCTIVITY and profitability are important drivers of the Homebush Pastoral business in South Gippsland, Victoria, good animal welfare sits above all as a critical factor.
The Hanrahans milk 900 cows on 338 ha at Homebush Pastoral near Stony Creek, with a split calving of a third in the autumn and two thirds in spring.
Pat Hanrahan says the balance between the various factors driving their business is simple to explain.
“We get paid for milk on a cents per litre basis, so happy, healthy cows are a fairly big production driver for us, because happier and healthier cows produce more milk,” Mr Hanrahan said.
“Animal welfare is also a massive issue for us, we love our cows and we want to look after them and give them the best treatment in life that they can have.”
Gippsland Veterinary Group veterinarian Dr Karienne Black works with Homebush Pastoral providing best practice pain relief for dairy calves during disbudding.
The process is an important husbandry procedure involving removal of the horn bud.
“Disbudding is vital because as these calves grow and go into the dairy, they can harm each other and harm themselves with the horns,” Dr Black said.
“When we disbud calves, we need to be conscious that as we are the custodians of these calves and their welfare, we’re giving them effective pain relief. A lot of studies have also shown as we maintain effective pain relief, we maximise productivity of the calves.”
The emphasis on animal welfare saw GVG be an early adopter in Australia of a multimodal disbudding protocol, already used widely in New Zealand, which includes anaesthetising calves before disbudding.
“Sedating the calves means we don’t have to handle them extensively, they have no memory of the process, and it ensures effective pain relief,” Dr Black said.
“Once we’ve burned the buds to remove them, we give the calves a spray on the site with Tri-Solfen from Bayer to maximise pain relief.”
Dr Black said once GVG started using Tri-Solfen after it was registered for use in calves for disbudding, they quickly realised how well it complemented its existing procedures.
“Tri-Solfen is a good product because it’s got both short and long-acting forms of anaesthetic,” she said.
“It also has adrenaline to help with the bleeding post-burning, and an antiseptic product as well, so those four elements mean we’re giving calves effective pain relief. We’ve got haemostasis, and we’re keeping the site clean so it’s not getting infected after the process.
“Since we’ve been using Tri-Solfen, our farmers find their calves are a lot less head shy after disbudding, so they are obviously more comfortable and get drinking sooner, so overall Tri-Solfen helps with the recovery process.”
It’s an observation echoed by Pat Hanrahan at Homebush Pastoral, who has been impressed with the impact Tri-Solfen has had not just on pain relief, but on improved productivity.
“Pain relief is a big aspect for us in terms of production; if a calf is slow to eat or drink because it’s feeling pain, then it doesn’t grow and we don’t meet the performance indicators we need,” he said.
“Most importantly, from my perspective as a dairy farmer, we love our cows. They’re our whole livelihood and we want them to have the best they can have.”
While Mr Hanrahan said he still had to make business decisions for his herd, Tri-Solfen and pain relief fit into what his business did because the animals were more productive, so it helped the business as well as look after its animals.
“I’d definitely recommend Tri-Solfen to other producers. It’s been really easy to use, just requiring two squirts on each horn site immediately after disbudding,” Mr Hanrahan said.
“The support we had from the Bayer rep was also really good, we had a couple of phone calls to see how it had gone on the day, and then a follow-up a couple of weeks later to ensure the calves had received the best treatment from the product.
“Moving forward we’ll definitely continue to use Tri-Solfen in our disbudding process to provide a high standard of animal welfare for our young stock, as well as from a business point of view to maintain production and increase growth of our calves.”
Mr Hanrahan believes the use of Tri-Solfen by the broader industry into the future is critical, given the economic and animal welfare pressure they face.
Dr Karienne Black agreed and said the use of pain relief in calves is a key component of the broader social licence to farm.
“When farmers talk about return on investment for Tri-Solfen, it’s not just about how well those calves grow after the process, but we’re also talking about how comfortable and happy those calves are, and also how society perceives that process,” she said.
“If you start talking about social licence to farm, that consideration has to be included in the Tri-Solfen return on investment for farmers.”