Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Q&A: Dairy sector test pilots assessment program

Aligning welfare assurance with practical and efficient approaches

Posted: March 20, 2014

Canada's dairy sector has become the first industry to test pilot an Animal Care Assessment Program based on the new Animal Care Assessment Framework process that has been developed by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC).

A key person involved with Animal Care Assessment for Canada's dairy industry is Ron Maynard, a P.E.I. dairy farmer and board member of Dairy Farmers of Canada.

He discusses the assessment program and the role of the test pilot:

Q: Why is animal care assessment needed?

Ron Maynard: This is part of a broader trend where customers and consumers in general are asking for more information about how food is produced. It's not good enough to simply tell them about our practices. We need to be able to prove what we are doing.

We are interested in providing assurance to our buyers in a number of important areas, including animal welfare. We worked with NFACC to develop an updated Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle, which captures how we manage farm animal care with responsible practices. The next step is to be able to prove dairy farms are following the Code. This what the Animal Care Assessment Program will do.

Q: What are the benefits for producers?

Ron Maynard: First and foremost, the Animal Care Assessment Program is about ensuring the responsible care of dairy cattle. This is not only what's right for the animals but it's important to the success of the farm, because healthy, comfortable cows produce more milk and of higher quality.

Our farmers are already committed to animal care and we have a lot of farmers out there doing a lot of good work to keep innovating. In all aspects of production, we need to always be in that proactive mindset of continual improvement to keep efficient and sustainable. Assessments will not only provide assurance to our buyers, they will provide an important tool to benchmark our progress and help us identify ways to keep getting better. This is true both at the level of individual farms and the industry as a whole.

Ron Maynard

Q: What are the major challenges and how are they addressed?

Ron Maynard: The greatest challenge is simplifying the process. Dr. Temple Grandin has said many times 'We manage what we measure' and that has been our focus. But the measuring needs to be done in a way that is not overly time consuming and is doable on all farms, whether there are 25 cows or 1,200 cows.

The Code of Practice has 64 requirements and 283 recommended best practices, which are ways that producers might meet the requirements. So that is a lot to measure.

To meet this challenge, a lot of the focus of program development has been put on identifying outcome-based, animal-based measures that can measure several Code requirements at once. This gets us down from 64 measures to potentially less than 20. We have had help in this regard from leading researchers to help identify and develop effective measures that can make the process as efficient and practical as possible, while maintaining a robust and credible assessment. We have come a long way and the test pilot feedback will help us improve further.

Q: How much weight should be given to these first test pilot results?

Ron Maynard: The results are very important because a lot of work has been accomplished on the program development. However we're also very aware that at this stage we are dealing with a very small sample size. We will review and make adjustments, then our plan is to conduct a second test pilot with more farms in 2014.

At all stages in the process, we want to make sure things are working well and if there are issues that arise that we need to spend more time and effort on we will do that. We will be able to speak more definitively about where we are after the next round but the indications so far are certainly very positive and promising. We are on track to meet the target timeframes for implementation that have been laid out.

Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.




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