The refreshed dairy sector strategy, Dairy Tomorrow, signals a commitment to move beyond minimum standards in animal care. Instead, our sector’s future goal is to become world-leading in animal welfare.
People’s expectations around the management of animals have changed as our understanding of the science behind good animal welfare outcomes has grown. While there is a strong customer focus behind our ambition to be world-leading – there is an equally compelling productivity argument, as farmers know that well-cared-for animals are healthy and productive and underpin a high-performing farming business.
At DairyNZ, we know the dairy sector and most of its farmers are already committed to high standards of animal care. Many go way beyond compliance. Others need more encouragement around this issue.
Our support aims to ensure all farmers meet, and where possible, exceed animal care requirements. We invest in research or the latest technology to create animal care solutions, resources and tools which farmers can use to manage their animals responsibly (for example SmartSAMM, Healthy Hoof and InCalf programmes, CalvingSmart, StockSense and the Body Condition Score (BCS) and Healthy Hoof apps). We contribute to and respond to policy and regulation around animal welfare requirements. We provide an animal care Early Response Service (ERS) which helps farmers get back on track (see article on page 12). Our regional consulting officers are also a supportive resource.
It’s vital that we get animal care right, for many reasons: personally, professionally, environmentally and economically. That’s not only good for animals’ wellbeing: it’s also essential if we’re to promote, maintain and improve dairy’s reputation in New Zealand and worldwide. Two people at the forefront of the dairy sector’s efforts around this challenge are Dr Lindsay Burton and Andrew Hoggard. Lindsay is Fonterra’s general manager, veterinary technical and risk management (also deputy chair of the Veterinary Council of New Zealand and chair of the New Zealand ‘Farm to Processor’ Animal Welfare Forum). Dairy farmer Andrew is the national vice president of Federated Farmers and a member of the International Dairy Federation Science and Policy Co-ordinating Committee (SPCC).
Lindsay says retailer statements and positioning around marketing their products is just one major influence. That’s coming from retailers and in some cases the large-producing, food processing and marketing companies, locally and overseas (particularly North America).
“Meanwhile in Europe, a significantly-changing legislative environment is sitting alongside that as well. Another key influencer is the OIE – the World Organisation for Animal Health, based in France. Its guidelines aren’t mandatory, but it sets international animal welfare standards and it’s also influencing the views of the world’s producers and legislators. New Zealand’s consultation group, through Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the industries, provides information to the OIE for its international standard-setting, so we’re certainly having an influence there.”
Andrew Hoggard notes that the USA in particular is going big on training, including record-keeping, robust procedures and training manuals.
“This is being predominantly led by the dairy sector there, which is responding well to concerns from the market and customers. The mainstream animal welfare groups in the States also support this approach and have really good things to say about the US dairy sector.”
Technological advances mean now anyone can quickly communicate animal welfare issues (or perceived issues) instantly online, using phones and social media. Andrew says he’s seen people put up photos of a dairy factory where milk is processed, saying ‘look at how the poor cows are being housed’ – but of course the cows are back on the farm.
“Or they post a photo of cows on a rotary platform, saying the animals are on there 24/7, when in fact it’s for eight minutes two times a day."
Both Andrew and Lindsay agree that the ongoing development of alternative proteins and synthesised milk is another technological change creating competition and confusion, with these being marketed as having little or no negative impact on animal welfare and the environment.
Nevertheless, Lindsay emphasises that existing New Zealand animal-producer surveys show we’re doing very well as far as animal care is concerned, “and we’re continuing to gather more evidence of our performance and compliance with minimum standards.”
Andrew also thinks more information is needed.
"As producers, we’ve got to be able to show we are doing what we say we are doing by having the evidence to back it up,” says Andrew. “It’s more than just having a nice photo of a farmer scratching a calf under the chin.”
So overall, while the picture is looking positive in terms of what we’ve gained, there are still challenging times ahead. Most of our farmers are stepping up to the plate and focusing on continuous improvement around animal care – a small group of others are not. Excellent animal care practices are important and DairyNZ is here to help when farmers need us. Our animals’ welfare, as well as the reputation and success of our sector and contribution to New Zealand’s economy, depend on getting this right.
Read more about the 1999 Animal Welfare Act’s requirements and where MPI fits in – visit legislation.govt.nz
To find out more about DairyNZ’s online animal welfare and animal care information, resources, publications and tools – visit dairynz.co.nz/animal
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy June 2018