For the vast majority of livestock producers, animal welfare is a top-of-mind priority every hour of every day. But, as we have all seen in disturbing undercover videos released recently, lapses can occur.
Just last week, a video was released showing a dairy worker committing alleged acts of animal cruelty. But clearly, it’s not just the dairy industry. Although rare, similar lapses unfortunately occur wherever humans come in contact with animals.
Good management is crucial in exhibiting and developing an animal welfare culture in an operation. “Observations made on several hundred farms, ranches, feedlots, and slaughter plants indicate that the single most important factor which affects animal welfare is the attitude of management,” according to Temple Grandin, noted professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. The message that animal abuse will not be tolerated under any circumstance must be engrained in all employees from their first day.
Think of animal handling as the “front line” of your operation. Train your animal handlers to expect and anticipate common animal behaviors and make sure they practice sound animal husbandry techniques at all times when in contact with animals.
Select workers with a calm temperament and good attitude for the task. Have your veteran handlers indoctrinate the new ones to pass along their wisdom, experience and skill that the job requires.
Watch for warning signs in workers’ attitudes and observe these workers periodically. If your time does not allow for constant worker scrutiny and ongoing evaluation, put an experienced animal handler in charge of animal welfare.
Keep in mind that people tend to do a better job when they are being tested so regular observation is needed. If an aggressive handler is discovered, assign that individual to a job elsewhere in the operation where he or she does not come into contact with animals.
Demand that any employee who observes another worker committing any act of animal abuse to report the situation immediately to a supervisor.
Anticipate animal behavior. During loading and unloading, keep pens, alleys and pathways free of obstructions or loose objects. See that flooring is dry, and add lime, shavings or other aids if needed to help ensure sound footing.
Move animals at an easy walking pace to keep them calm, less stressed and easier to control. Do not crowd or rush animals to try to keep them moving. It will have the opposite effect.
Of course, it’s not just handling that influences animal welfare. The American Veterinary Medical Association has outlined its Animal Welfare Principles and provided access to many information sources.
We all know that hot weather will soon be here and 90 F to 100 F temperatures in the can be expected. Be prepared by testing ventilation and cooling systems and by checking other animal housing facilities. Make necessary repairs and adjustments before the hot weather arrives. Ensure each animal has unobstructed access to clean, fresh water sources and properly maintain all water delivery equipment.
Make sure transport vehicles are properly maintained and equipped and take necessary actions promptly on maintenance or repair. Insist on prompt treatment of health issues. If services of a veterinarian or other professional are needed, don’t hesitate. When necessary, be ready to conduct timely, humane euthanasia, employing methods endorsed by the appropriate industry.
Continuous improvement in animal welfare is critical in every livestock operation. Experts abound and university research is widely available. Grandin’s animal welfare work is a landmark in animal agriculture.
A periodic review of latest findings will help you and your workers develop an animal welfare-first mentality. It may be the most important aspect of your job and it requires your constant attention.