by SUSAN MANN
Canadian dairy farmers must stop docking their cows’ tails starting in September 2017 as part of a new industry-developed animal care program being implemented on farms.
The requirement is included in the animal care section of the dairy industry’s package of six modules, called proAction, designed to give consumers an assurance of the high quality and production standards used to produce milk. The six modules are: milk quality, food safety (already implemented on farms with the on-farm food safety program Canadian Quality Milk), animal care (based on the Canadian Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle), traceability, biosecurity and environment. By Sept. 1, 2017, all dairy farmers across Canada must have the animal care and traceability programs implemented on their farms.
“With proAction farmers offer proof to customers that they work to ensure milk quality and safety, and to continually improve animal health and welfare as well as environmental stewardship,” according to the Dairy Farmers of Canada website.
Sid Atkinson, Dairy Farmers of Ontario board member for Region 4 (Hastings, Lennox & Addington, Northumberland and Price Edward counties) says farmers’ customers, processors and consumers, don’t want milk from farms that dock cows’ tails.
“We want to show consumers that we are responsible, we are responding to their concerns and we care about our animals,” he explains during a telephone interview Thursday.
Farm organizations in other jurisdictions, such as the United States, are also in the process of requiring their farmers to stop docking cows’ tails.
In Quebec, the province’s veterinary association adopted a position on Jan. 1 prohibiting veterinarians from docking the tails of cattle, horses, dogs and cats and from cropping dogs and cats’ ears unless it’s medically necessary, according to a report released at the Dairy Farmers of Ontario annual policy conference in Alliston held this week. The Quebec ban is slated to become law on Jan. 1, 2017. People other than veterinarians, who dock animals’ tails or ears, in Quebec will face prosecution for illegally practicing veterinary medicine.
Atkinson says he doesn’t have numbers on how many farmers dock their cows’ tails. “It’s more of a regional thing. There are a lot of Quebec and eastern Ontario farmers that do it” but not so many in other parts of Ontario or Western Canada, he said.
The practice of removing all but about 16 inches of tail is done to maintain cow cleanliness. If a cow with an intact tail lies down and swings her tail in manure, “she’ll cover her flanks in manure,” he says. She may also flick manure on the person trying to milk her.
Some people argue cows need their tails to swat at flies. Atkinson says in the newer barns flies aren’t a problem. “If you have good air flow around the cows, you usually don’t have a problem with flies.”
The Dairy Farmers report says farmers who continue tail docking after Sept. 1, 2017 will receive a major non-compliance score and “subsequently will not pass their validation.” The Ontario milk board is also considering provincial consequences, such as penalties, for farmers who continue the practice.
None of the proAction modules are being introduced because of the major animal abuse incident that happened on a dairy farm in Chilliwack, British Columbia in 2014. The modules were being developed before the abuse occurred, Atkinson notes. However, the case of abuse did strengthen dairy farmers’ resolve, particularly in British Columbia, to push ahead and ensure the animal care section is implemented.
The report also notes in the environment module of proAction that one of the requirements will be for farmers to have an Environmental Farm Plan. The plan program was developed by a coalition of farm groups 23 years ago and the plans were designed to be voluntary.
As part of the program, farmers attend a workshop and then complete an assessment of up to 23 different areas on their farms highlighting environmental strengths, identifying areas of concern and then outlining action plans with timetables to improve environmental conditions. Peer review committees assessed farmers’ plans initially but now that’s being done by Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association workshop leaders.
Gord Surgeoner, who was involved when the coalition of farm groups first developed the farm plans, says it’s OK the plans are being made mandatory as part of the dairy industry’s proAction program.
The decision to make the plans mandatory was made by a democratically elected board of directors “so it has gone through a democratic process amongst the dairy farmers,” he notes.
What the coalition meant by voluntary when the plans were first developed was “the customer didn’t demand it and the government didn’t demand it. But we did have caveats, such as if you wanted money from government of an environmental nature, you had to do an Environmental Farm Plan,” he notes. However, “we insisted that it not be linked to risk management and other programs.”
About 38,000 Ontario farms have completed a plan, he says. BF