Setting the record straight

by Dr. Temple Grandin
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photo of Dr. Temple Grandin

Recently there was a lot of confusion about my position on animal welfare standards for farms. The meat industry is dividing into two large sectors. They are the commodity sector and the niche markets of organic, natural and/or high welfare standards. Both sectors are part of the market place and serve different consumer needs. It is my opinion that farms and slaughter plants in both sectors should follow the same basic core criteria for animal welfare. The following are my recommended core criteria for dairies.

These basic core criteria should apply to dairies in both market sectors. Other standards such as requirements for access to pasture or specifications for certain types of housing would be specific to particular companies.Numerical scoring should be used to quantify and manage the following

Lameness

Lameness is a major animal welfare problem and the percentage of lame dairy cows has increased over the years. Research has shown that the top 10 percent of the diaries had 5 percent lame cows and the average was 25 percent. To have an acceptable level of lameness, the goal should be 5 percent or less lame cows.

Body condition

This is an area where the dairy industry really needs to improve. There are too many skinny dairy cows. On a dairy there should be no emaciated animals. Thin cows with a body condition score of 2 should be 3 percent or less of the cows.

Swellings on the legs

The goal should be less than 2 percent of the cows have a swelling smaller than a baseball on the worst leg. There is a large variation between the worst and the best free-stall dairies. A survey of 113 free-stall dairies by Wendy

Fulwider showed that on the best 40 percent of the dairies, up to 2 percent of the cows had swelling smaller than a baseball. On the worst 20 percent of the dairies, cows with swollen hocks ranged from 4 percent to 12 percent.

Cow cleanliness

Score with a simple four-point scale where a 1 is a clean cow and a 4 has dirty legs, belly, udder and sides. In a freestall dairy, there should be a 5 percent maximum on dirty cows.

Coat condition

This is mainly a measure of bald spots on natural or organic cattle that have untreated lice. The goal should be 5 percent or less with bald spots.

On-farm handling

Handling should be scored for percentage of cows falling. Electric prod use, vocalization and percentage moving faster than a trot should also be tabulated. All calves must be fed colostrum within 6 hours of birth.

AMI Guidelines

The slaughter plant follows AMI guidelines and is audited by third party auditors. Third-party auditing by video over the internet is the preferred method.

These are the basic core standards. To receive an acceptable score, a dairy would have to pass on all eight core criteria. This works the same way as the AMI guidelines. A plant has to pass on all the core criteria. It takes longer to fix problems on a farm compared to making improvements at a slaughter plant. Dairies would have to be given two to three years to get their operations up to the standard. Good dairies can easily attain these standards. I have visited many dairies capable of passing this standard.

Dr. Temple Grandin operates Grandin Livestock Systems Inc., Fort Collins, Colo., and is a faculty member in the animal science department at Colorado State Univ.

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