The confidential Early Response Service (ERS) has been successful in helping farmers manage their animals when the going gets tough. It operates nationwide with regionally-based animal care specialists supported by the dairy companies.
People contact the service for different reasons. For example, someone driving by may think cows don’t have enough to eat or notice the break fence hasn’t been moved, or rural professionals such as vets and neighbours may have concerns about animal welfare.
“One of our advantages in these circumstances is that DairyNZ has a reputation as an unbiased intermediary with farming experience,” says Bruce.
“Spring can be a particularly busy time of year for our ERS team. It’s a challenging time when people are under stress anyway, and last spring in my region, the Upper North Island, some farmers were simply overwhelmed when the weather conditions raised animal welfare risks on-farm.
“All calls to our freephone remain confidential,” says Bruce. “When we receive one, we go through a detailed process with a dairy company colleague to assess the situation across the board and to offer realistic solutions. Of course, some calls are misjudgements, but we always visit the farm, and check the welfare of the animals as well as the wellbeing of the farmer.
“If there is a genuine issue, we then assess risks and write an action plan for the farmer to follow. This outlines practical steps showing what can be done today, this week and next week. We return to make sure the actions are being followed up, and we advise the dairy company when the case can be closed. Only in rare cases, where there has been deliberate mistreatment of animals (and all those involved feel the case needs escalating), does the relevant dairy company make the decision to contact the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).”
Bruce believes there is now an appreciation among farmers that inappropriate behaviour around animal welfare puts the entire dairy sector at reputational risk.
“There is plenty of support available. For example, if someone only has four or five days of feed left, if they let us know, we can get in touch with Federated Farmers to see if they can rustle some up. We also work with the Rural Support Trust and vets to help us.
“Being part of the ERS team is a challenging job, but very rewarding because in most cases you are supporting farmers in difficult circumstances and it’s great to see them getting back on track,” says Bruce.
If you have concerns and wish to access DairyNZ’s Early Response Service, phone our free, confidential number: 0800 4 324 7969.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy June 2018