Animal Health

Best practice calf welfare a priority for dairy industry

By Dairy News Australia

Dairy farmers from across Australia recently tuned in to a webinar on best practice welfare for disbudding in dairy calves, with the high turnout clearly demonstrating the importance industry places on animal wellbeing.

They were joined by resellers, milk processors, dairy industry body representatives, disbudding contractors and veterinarians, showing a clear buy-in from all of industry.

Delivered by Bayer Animal Health as a webinar due to COVID-19 restrictions, the topic was driven by not only farmer concerns for calf welfare, but also to meet evolving consumer expectations.

It’s a factor not to be underestimated, according to Bayer technical services veterinarian Claire Hunt, who presented in the webinar.

“This really is such an important topic in terms of animal welfare, and also being able to show due diligence to our end users, the consumers of dairy products,” Dr Hunt said.

“They are increasingly becoming aware and interested in where their dairy products come from, so we as an industry need to be able to demonstrate best practice and assure them that we are doing everything we can to promote animal welfare on the farm.”

The Australian dairy industry has developed, and continues to update, the Australian Dairy Industry Sustainability Framework to guide the industry’s success in the future.

This framework has been refined into four key commitments, one of which is "striving for health, welfare and best care for all our animals throughout their lives".

Specifically addressing this commitment is a new industry policy stating that "all calves are to be disbudded prior to eight weeks of age with pain relief" which is endorsed by the Australian Dairy Farmers National Council.

Dr Hunt discussed at length in the webinar about what disbudding/dehorning is, and why it is important for both animal and human safety.

“Dehorned animals are less likely to damage each other, infrastructure, handlers and need less space at feed stations,” she said.

“We also talked about the best practice of disbudding — including considerations on age, animal health, reducing stress when yarding, external factors (weather, flies), feeding prior to disbudding, appropriate restraint, pain relief and post-surgical care.”

The concepts around pain and wound management were highlighted as key considerations for dairy farmers, with Dr Hunt saying the need for pain relief during disbudding should be taken seriously.

As the first and only topical anaesthetic and antiseptic product applied immediately after disbudding, Tri-Solfen can play a key role in pain relief, having been registered for disbudding of dairy calves in 2018.

The use of Tri-Solfen is recommended by leading livestock industries, international retailers, animal welfare groups and welfare scientists.

The product contains two local anaesthetics — fast-acting lignocaine and long-lasting bupivacaine — as well as adrenaline for blood loss reduction, an antiseptic (cetrimide) and a unique gel formulation that seals and protects the wound for accelerated healing.

“We really can do more for calf welfare at disbudding,” Dr Hunt said.

“Some form of pain relief should be given to all calves as a minimum, and Tri-Solfen offers a complete wound management option with pain relief extending to at least 24 hours.

“It’s a case of making sure that as an industry we are promoting best practice and are providing calves with pain relief, so that we can confidently go back to our consumers and say that we are doing the right thing.”

Industry stakeholders, including milk processors such as Saputo Dairy Australia, are playing an important role in this, by seeking commitment from producers to use pain control when disbudding calves.

Saputo’s global Animal Welfare Policy states "the use of pain control when dehorning or disbudding cattle must become a minimum industry standard".

Saputo Dairy Australia’s team uses the policy as a tool to educate suppliers in animal care and take a leadership position in the Australian industry on this issue.

Saputo’s animal welfare director Warren Skippon said the company was committed to supporting training opportunities for dairy producers that promote the advancement of animal care best practices, and webinars like this were an important tool for knowledge transfer to the dairy sector.

“We are pleased to see such strong interest in the webinar series, as it indicates the industry is committed to the continuous improvement of animal care,” Dr Skippon said.

“The Australian industry is rapidly evolving to meet the expectation of consumers and the response to this webinar series demonstrates our farmers are as committed as Saputo to meeting the challenge.”