Cow comfort receives priority

Use of a common analgesic is becoming more routine on many cattle operations, both on cows and calves. | Mike Sturk photo

Meloxicam for cattle is becoming the equivalent of a certain brand of hot sauce for people, at least for some ranchers.

“We put that stuff on everything,” said farmer and rancher Jill Burkhardt about the use of Metacam, the trade name for the meloxicam analgesic, when doing painful procedures on cattle.

Burkhardt, who farms with her family near Gwynn, Alta., said the pain reliever is regularly used on cows that had a difficult labour and on calves born from that situation.

“We’ve noticed that the rebound with the cow and the calf, post-labour, is huge,” she said. Providing meloxicam after castrating has also proven beneficial.

“They don’t go off feed at all, so that’s been one huge difference.”

Burkhardt was one of four panellists who discussed animal welfare during a session organized March 23 by the Alberta Farm Animal Care Council.

Dairy farmer Heini Hehli of Rimbey, Alta., who is also an AFAC director, said attention to cow comfort has evolved during his 40 years in the business.

“Animal welfare and care has always been on top of our minds from day one. If your cattle are not comfortable, if your cattle are not well taken care of, they will not work for you. We expect a lot from our cows and in turn they expect a lot from us.”

Hehli said the major change has been in consumers’ desires to know more about animal welfare, resulting in greater consideration at the farm level.

For example, pain relief is now routinely provided when dehorning, something that did not used to occur. Similarly, it is provided to any cow after a difficult calving.

He also said he and his son pay closer attention to hoof trimming and the cows’ foot health in general. Digital dermatitis, a painful hoof condition, is addressed as soon as it is noticed by providing pain medication to the affected animal.

Research on dairy cow comfort has also helped his dairy consider optimal bedding and how the number of hours cows spend lying down is an indication of comfort level.

Jasmin Bautz, who raises Boer goats and sheep on her parents’ beef operation near Middle Lake, Sask., said attitudes toward animal welfare have evolved with each generation.

In earlier times, it was assumed animals had to experience a certain amount of pain and stress to conduct normal livestock operations.

Now they try to prevent stress as much as possible and pay attention to the science behind animal handling and welfare to incorporate new practices.

“It’s becoming even more important every day,” said Bautz about animal welfare.

Canada’s code of practice for the care and handling of beef cattle makes recommendations about pain relief for certain procedures. There are several drugs available, all of which require a veterinary prescription.

According to the Beef Cattle Research Council, producers continue to increase use of pain control in cattle management.

“In 2014, four percent of western Canadian cow-calf producers reported using pain control for castration, and nine percent reported using pain control for dehorning,” the BCRC reported.

“By 2017, 10-28 percent of Canadian cow-calf producers reported using pain control for castration, with another 14-23 percent using pain control depending on castration age and method. In 2017, 27-31 percent of Canadian cow-calf producers reported using pain control for dehorning, with another 14-23 percent using pain control depending on dehorning age and the method used.”

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