Alberta Farm Animal Care was founded in 1993, which makes this coming year AFAC’s 25th anniversary!! AFAC was created by the livestock industry for the livestock industry in Alberta. Throughout the past 25 years, AFAC has developed into the collective voice of the livestock industry on all matters of livestock welfare.
As the topic of animal agriculture grows larger every day, it is our job as an industry to work together as a united front to tackle this issue. As an organization, we work to bring commodity groups and stakeholders in the industry together to promote the message of responsible animal care and welfare.
AFAC provides a multi-faceted approach to farm animal welfare in Alberta. We are very active in public engagement and education as well as providing information and resources to producers across Alberta.
Consumers Expect It
Nowadays, consumers are looking for assurance that farm animals are being raised humanely. Therefore, it is a priority to demonstrate our commitment to animal care.
What Does AFAC Do?
We have many different programs and events that are a main part of our identity within the industry. AFAC is very present when it comes to public engagement, we are actively involved in events such as the Calgary Stampede, Aggie Days, Amazing Ag, Classroom Agriculture Program, Open Farm Days, etc. At these events, we work to strengthen the livestock industry’s social licence and let the public know that farmers in Alberta, as well as across Canada, care for their animals!
Along with public engagement, we are regularly engaging with our members. Whether that be at our Advisory Council meetings that occur 3 times a year, member updates, featuring them in blog posts and videos, and more. We do our best to maintain a strong relationship with all of our members and ensure that the work we are doing continues to be useful to all of our members.
Along with public engagement we have produced many consumer and producer resources. These include Humane Handling Guidelines, infographics, children’s workbooks, educational resources, video series, fact sheets, and much more!
We also host an annual Livestock Care Conference, which brings together industry experts, researchers, innovative producers, industry stakeholders, and students to learn about the latest improvements in animal care and welfare around the world.
Each year AFAC holds many different workshops for industry training, in the past, these have included poultry handling and transportation workshops, backyard chicken and small flock care workshops, large animal rescue workshops, etc. To find out about upcoming workshops, please visit our events page on our website. AFAC believes that training is very important to promote responsible animal care, this is why we do our best to keep up with changes in the industry and provide training and workshops when the industry requests them.
One of our more prominent programs is the ALERT Line. This is a “producer helping producer” anonymous call-line that is designed to provide help and advice to producers on issues of animal care from within the industry. The ALERT Line can also be used to answer questions from the public on animal care practices.
We have also helped facilitate or put in place 17 Emergency Livestock Handling Equipment Trailers throughout Alberta. These trailers are equipped with materials to help when accidents happen such as livestock truck rollovers, a barn roof collapse, flood, or a barn fire. These trailers, and the equipment in them, are designed to help keep the animals safe along with the people handling them. These trailers are connected to 911, so in an event that a trailer is needed you can request them through a 911 operator, call the ALERT Line, or find the closest trailer on our trailer information cards.
Membership Based Organization
AFAC is a membership based organization. There are 6 different levels of membership that we offer.
Supporter Member: This is for individuals without livestock who support the vision/mission of Alberta Farm Animal Care
Producer Member: This level is for individuals or farms that own livestock.
Bronze/Silver/Gold/ Platinum Members: These levels are for organizations or companies that wish to support Alberta Farm Animal Care’s mission.
Each level includes different benefits, you can see which level would best suit you and/or your organization on our membership page on our website.
Becoming a member of AFAC is a great way to show that you care and become involved in the livestock care and welfare conversation.
AFAC truly believes that we are better together, and we hope to bring the livestock industry together to provide a forum for discussion and to continue to strengthen our industry from within.
The history of the housing systems in place in egg production leads back to the 1920’s when egg production took place on general farmyards, these would include smaller farmyard flocks and a few establishments with larger flocks. During these times hens were commonly kept outside and were commonly raised alongside other livestock.
As time went on farmers faced numerous challenges as flock sizes started to increase. In the 1930’s mortality increased to over 20% and new flocks were starting to encounter diseases, including salmonella pullorum, red mites, coccidiosis, worms, frostbite and losses to predators.
After World War II, consumer demand for eggs grew. With the need to produce more eggs at a low cost, farmers were faced with the challenge of meeting these demands. In the 1950’s an innovation came along that would change the industry.
Conventional cages were seen as one of the biggest advancements in hen welfare ever made. Also, known as battery cages, they housed 3 to 9 birds per cage and allowed the farmer to better control feed, manure, light and treatment practices. Since the hens were housed in smaller bird groups, there was a decrease in bird aggression and feather pecking. Another big advantage was that cages allowed farmers to keep the eggs separate from the birds and the manure, improving food safety for the consumer. By the mid 1960’s over 90% of egg production was in a conventional cage system. Cage systems evolved over time, from flat deck cages all on one level, to the modern stacked cage system. In the 50 years between 1962 and 2012, the innovations in egg production led to a 50% increase in production, while at the same time reducing the carbon footprint by almost 50%. Fewer resources were needed to produce eggs over this time, amounting to 81% less land needed, 96% less water and 41% less energy. This was thanks to genetic selection of hens that did very well in caged systems, and advancements in management and cage design.
Even though the industry saw huge advantages to conventional cages, there were downsides. Farmers started to see cage layer fatigue in their birds, which is where the hens’ bones become fragile due to all their calcium being given to egg production. Foot health and feather cover issues emerged. These issues were addressed with improvements in bird management, which included nutrition and density requirements. In 1989, a voluntary Code of Practice was released, which stated standards on hen housing density for birds housed in cages. Egg Farmers of Alberta started regulating density in the 1990’s for the first time.
The European Union announced in 1999, that they would be banning conventional cages in the EU after 2012, after a 12-year phase out. Here in North America our sights were on that development but producers remained comfortable continuing with conventional housing.
In 2003, the Canadian Code of Practice was updated and in 2005 the Canadian egg industry launched an Animal Care Program. The Animal Care Program assesses facilities against the recommendations in the Code of Practice during an annual on farm audit.
Right around the same time that the Canadian Egg Industry released standards on density populations, the industry also started to come under scrutiny by animal rights organizations. Organizations including universities, municipalities, grocery stores and fast food chains began to adopt resolutions to transition to cage free egg productions.
The egg industry took a deeper look into animal welfare and conventional cages. While conventional cages provide many benefits, this type of housing limits the birds’ ability to express a wide range of normal behaviours, and there is no management steps that can be taken to overcome this issue. In 2009 Egg Farmers of Alberta started to deliver the message that producers shouldn’t limit themselves to conventional housing. In 2013, Egg Farmers of Alberta set a new standard, by adopting a policy that stated no new conventional cage systems will be allowed after December 31, 2014. Egg Farmers of Canada was soon to follow, and in 2016 they made an announcement that conventional cages will be phased out over the next 20 years.
The egg industry continues to evolve, offering a variety of housing alternatives to conventional cages:
Furnished or Enriched Housing: is a caged based system that provides the birds with more space, along with many different types of enrichments, which include nesting boxes, perches, scratch pads and dust baths. These enrichments offer the hens the opportunity to express more of their natural behaviours, while still being able to keep their manure separate from the eggs.
Free Run: is a cage free system that can take place on a barn floor or a tiered aviary. This system also includes many of the same enrichments as the furnished housing system. The main concern to this system is since the birds are housed in large groups this can increase aggression.
Free Range: is another cage free system, but these birds have access to the outdoors when weather permits. Since these birds have access to the outdoors the concern for predators comes into play once again. This system is mandatory for organic egg layers.
In 2009, the first furnished housing system in North America was installed in Alberta. This change brought on a whole new set of challenges to farmers, as they had to learn how to manage their flock within their new housing system. These new housing systems were not included in the 2003 code of practice so farmers had no information on density, etc. This issue has been resolved with the release of a revised Code of Practice in 2017, providing standards for alternative housing systems.
The hen housing journey has come a long way and today in Alberta, 75.2% of producers are using conventional systems, 10% are using furnished housing, 12% are free-run and 2.8% are free-range.
With the move to alternative housing systems, the industry is seeing a new set of challenges; learning how to best manage flocks in these systems, funding the immense cost of converting barns, and timing the transition of the egg industry so that it is in step with consumer demand.
The uncertainty of hen housing will continue for many years to come, but we need to be pleased with the changes and advancements that have been adopted by our industry. Farmers continue to work hard to meet the market demands and to provide a choice to consumers. Farmers also continue to learn and implement new strategies of production in today’s modern system of egg production.
This blog post was written in collaboration with Egg Farmers of Alberta. All photos courtesy of Egg Farmers of Alberta.
Winter might be slowly creeping into your mind right now and before you know it we will be pulling out those winter jackets and starting to think about tackling that Christmas shopping list. As you prepare for winter, it is imperative you prepare your chicken coop for winter, too.
Chickens generally do quite well in winter provided that the breeds you have are suitable for our Canadian climate and that they are provided a dry, draft-free, warm shelter.
Some breeds are more suitable for our Canadian climate than others. Breeds that have originated in Northern climates share common traits that help them adapt to cold weather including a larger body mass, heavy feathering, and small combs/wattles to help decrease the risk of frostbite. Some examples are Australorps, Dominiques, and Wyandottes.
It is essential that your coop is set up to provide the birds with a dry, draft-free, warm shelter. The lightweight, non-insulated chicken coops that you find in many farm supply stores are not suitable for winter conditions! People often ask, “What temperature does the coop need to be at during the winter?” There is no exact answer, as it will depend on the breed and how winter hardy your coop is. In general, the coop should not feel warm to you on a cold winter day. The birds will not become acclimatized to outdoor temperatures and could potentially become sick if there is a huge swing in temperature from the inside of the coop to the outside. Observe the birds behavior as an indicator if they are too cold. If you notice your birds are huddling in one place all day long, are lethargic, or reluctant to move, they are too cold and you need to take implement additional measures.
Whether you have 5 chickens or 50, the same principles apply for making sure the birds do well during colder temperatures:
Water is of the Utmost Importance! All chickens in the coop need access to clean water during the winter that is NOT frozen. Common options are a heated pet bowl or a heated waterer designed specifically for poultry. The heated pet bowl is usually a cheaper option, although is likely to get dirty quicker. If you do not have a heated water source for the birds, be prepared to go out to the coop several times during the day to provide water that is not frozen. It’s important to make sure that even in winter the waterer is cleaned often to prevent bacteria from growing and kept free of any debris.
Stock up on Scratch and Feed! Scratch is a mixture of different grains. Scratch is reserved for winter as it helps raise the bird’s internal body temperature. It is not a complete diet, and needs to be fed in conjunction with a nutritionally balanced feed. Ideally it should be fed during the evening so the birds can digest it throughout the night. Only feed the birds what they will consume in 10-15 minutes. Make sure you also have ample quantities of feed. Chickens will eat more as the temperatures drop to help stay warm. Water is required for them to digest their food properly; the importance of water that is not frozen cannot be over-stressed!
Keep the Coop Dry! Resist the urge to close up vents on the coop to preserve heat! Adequate ventilation is a must in the winter time to keep moisture and ammonia out of your chicken coop. Even at mild temperatures, chickens can get frostbite if the moisture content in the coop is too high. A good rule of thumb is, if you start to see condensation or ice forming on the windows in your coop you do not have enough ventilation! You can achieve ventilation in many ways in your coop but it is ideal if the vents are placed high on the walls, on at least two different sides, and are protected from driving rains and snow. Make sure to remove chicken manure daily to remove excess moisture. Provide your chickens with lots of dry bedding material (4-6” is ideal) and clean up any wet litter right away. Wet litter also creates favorable environment for bacteria. Look for bedding material that has good absorption and retains warmth.
Eliminate Any Drafts! Just like us, chickens are susceptible to wind chill effects. Take a good look around the inside of your coop – are there any gaps or holes (not intended for ventilation) that could let in a draft? They should be sealed. If you are adding insulation to your coop, make sure it is covered from the chickens or they will try to eat it.
To Heat or Not to Heat? A hotly debated topic is whether to add a supplemental heat source to your coop or not. If, despite all of your best efforts, the chickens are still too cold you will need to consider adding heat. Heat lamps should be avoided AT ALL COSTS! They are a severe fire risk and there have been numerous cases of chicken coops going up in flames in mere minutes. For most small coops, a flat panel zero clearance radiant heater will work well. These heaters take up minimal space, use little electricity, provide a safe source of heat, and will keep the chill off in your coop. They are available at hardware supply stores. You may want to consider adding a weather station to your coop to monitor the temperature and humidity.
Additional Tips and Tricks:
Consider securely attaching a tarp to the outside run to create a wind break. This will keep inclement weather out
Keep the outdoor run covered as chickens dislike walking in the snow
Use wide roosting platforms, such as a 2” X 4” with the wide side up. This allows the chickens to cover their feet on the roosts with their feathers, reducing the risk of frostbite
Consider adding environmental enrichments in the winter time when chickens are prone to becoming bored from being ‘cooped’ up. Add new perches, tree stumps, logs, a head of cabbage, etc.
When a person hears the words ‘dairy farm’ one of the first things that comes to mind is probably the signature black and white Holstein dairy cattle.
But as you walk on the property of Primrose Farms, there isn’t a purebred Holstein cow in sight. Primrose Farms is one of the only Fleckvieh dairy farms in Alberta and that is something that they are very proud of.
The Fleckvieh breed originates from Lower Bavaria, Germany and they are known for their use as a dual-purpose breed, which makes them suitable for both milk and meat production.
Cornel and Cremona both grew up on family farms in Alberta: Cornel in the beef and grain industry, and Cremona in the dairy, beef, and grain industries. Unlike their farm now, Cremona grew up with Holstein Dairy cattle, but once they started their own dairy together, their financials were just not making sense, “On 25 cows in our herd we spent too much money on pharmaceuticals and veterinary services, and we thought that there has to be a better way to do this.” On the beef farm that Cornel was raised on they bred a Simmental cross, and in Switzerland Simmental cattle are occasionally used for milk production as well. “If we could find a hardier animal like the Simmental, they would do much better.”
So, in May 2004 after they finished reading an article in a FarmShow magazine about a farmer in Manitoba that was crossing his Holsteins with Fleckvieh, they decided to give that a try. They contacted the company that was importing the genetics, it was sent on a Grey Hound bus and they have never looked back. “As soon as the calves started to hit the ground, they were stronger and more robust and we were just so happy about it.” Cornel and Cremona also saw that their farm economics started to improve, “with the Fleckvieh you have a dual purpose animal, you’re not just limited to the income coming from the milk production, but you also have the ability to have a good income from beef production as well. The longevity of the animal also improves, they are just a more balanced and natural animal.”
At Primrose Farms, they milk about 100 cows but have about 250 head in total. They raise all their own calves on the farm as well. The females are kept, joining the milking herd once they are old enough and the males are grown as beef animals. Usually in the beef industry, male calves are castrated if they aren’t going to be used as breeding stock; Here on Primrose Farms they leave the males intact so they can use their natural ability to grow.
Because they leave their males calves intact, they don’t use any hormones to facilitate growth. They also don’t use any hormones on their milking cows either. Primrose Farms allow their cattle to naturally come into heat. The only hormone they would use once in a blue moon, is oxytocin, this is commonly used to encourage a first lactation heifer to drop her milk, as they can be a little nervous.
Animal welfare is very important to Cornel and Cremona, they both want a low stress lifestyle for all the animals on the farm. The milking barn is a loafing barn layout, which allows the cows to roam freely. They have specific areas designated for feeding, milking, water and a big open area for the cows to lay down and relax.
In January 2011, there was a major technology change on the farm; they started milking with robots. Since the addition of the robots Cornel and Cremona have both noticed a more flexible work schedule. This flexibility has allowed them to pursue more enterprises, like eggs, chickens and pigs; there are also a few friendly geese and ducks on the property! Since this flexibility allowed them to pursue more of what they wanted to do, in 2016 they got a processing license and there first batch of pasteurized milk was made.
Since that first batch they have branched out into whole milk, yogurt, kefir, chocolate milk, eggnog and now ice cream! Soon in 2018, they will expand with grass fed butter and sour cream. They also grade and clean all their own eggs. The meat from their chickens, pigs and cows that aren’t used for milk production is all custom processed off the farm.
With the Fleckvieh animals it has led to more visitors on the farm, and Cornel and Cremona have a full open-door policy. Both Cornel and Cremona are very passionate about farming, and they both love to express their passion for the industry. “There is so much disconnect between the consumer and farmer, we have no problem filling that gap and showing the public how much we love and care for our animals.”
Since Cornel and Cremona market their own product to sell, as well sell it in a few select stores throughout Alberta, they cherish the relationships that they make with their consumers. “We want consumers to have a relationship and to know the farmer that is producing their food, instead of just relying on a label.”
If you are interested in learning more about Primrose Farms check out their website at http://www.primrosefarms.co
When colder temperatures hit and chickens are ‘cooped’ up, they are prone to becoming bored. This can lead to behavioural issues you may not normally see in your flock such as egg eating, feather pecking, and even cannibalism in severe cases.
Chickens generally do quite well in our Alberta winters, provided that the breeds you have are suitable to our climate and that they are provided a dry, draft-free, warm shelter with access to water that is not frozen. Chickens that are accustomed to the climate will still happily go outside in temperatures well below 0°C, so try not to keep them confined to inside the coop except for in the most frigid weather conditions.
To save your flock’s sanity (and yours!) you may want to consider adding some environmental enrichment in extreme cold temperatures.
Add New Perches! Consider adding new perches to the coop and/or moving existing perches around the coop to keep the environment new and interesting. Be creative! You could add a chair, a tree branch, a Chicken Swing (yes such a thing does exist! Or you can also make your own), an old ladder, a tree stump, etc. Recycle your Christmas tree and put it in the coop. The chickens will enjoy exploring and roosting on it.
Hang a Head of Cabbage! (Or other edible food) Cabbage, cucumber, broccoli, a head of lettuce, your pumpkin from Halloween… the sky is the limit! This will provide the chickens with hours of entertainment. Whatever you choose, hang it at eye level and make sure that it is securely attached. Ensure you remove any unused portions at the end of the day so you don’t attract uninvited guests. A word of caution with treats – while they are often very effective at keeping chickens occupied, they should be used sparingly (no more than 5% of the chicken’s diet) as they can be detrimental to the
chicken’s health in excess. Make sure you are providing a nutritionally balanced feed free choice that makes up the majority of your flock’s diet.
Give Them Something to Dig Through! Throw a bale of straw or hay in the run for the chickens to dig through. This will keep them entertained for hours as it encourage their natural behaviour to forage, especially if you throw in a handful of scratch or dried mealworms for them to search for. If you would like some entertainment, throw in crickets or live worms for the chicken’s to go after!
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Chickens thoroughly enjoy looking at themselves! Hang a mirror at eye level in the coop. Ensure that it is securely attached.
Make Sure You Provide a Dust Bath! If you already have a dust bath for your chickens, consider adding a second one in a different location to keep them entertained. The dust bath should be sheltered from snow.
If despite your best efforts, you start to see egg eating, feather pecking, or cannibalistic behaviour in your flock – don’t fly the coop just yet!
Additional Tips and Tricks:
Eating Eggs – It’s Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be! Breaking and eating eggs can happen when the chickens are not given sufficient space. Ensure you act quickly as this behaviour will spread to the other birds in the flock who will try to mimic the behaviour. Ensure any broken eggs are cleaned up immediately and avoid feeding raw eggs to your flock so they do not acquire a taste for it. You can try to deter a chicken from breaking and eating eggs by placing plastic or ceramic eggs in the nest boxes. Chickens that are fed a complete feed ration and are provided oyster shells free choice are less likely to be interested in eating eggs. Ensure eggs are collected often, at least twice a day.
To Peck or Not to Peck: Chickens have a defined pecking order in the flock; some pecking is normal and generally you do not need to interfere. More aggressive feather pecking can be caused by stress, boredom, hunger, or insufficient space. If the pecking is persistent and/or blood is drawn, it is time for you to play referee. The injured chicken should be removed from the flock immediately and not returned until it has fully healed. Consider adding more environmental enrichments, as discussed above, to try to re-direct the behaviour. Ensure your flock is fed a complete feed ration and that all birds have access to the feeders and waterers. Try to give your chickens as much space as possible, which gives flock members that are lower in status areas to escape.
Feather pecking in extreme cases can lead to Cannibalism, which is a serious welfare concern. Act quickly to control pecking before it escalates to where flock members are tearing the skin and tissues of other members. Chickens tend to mimic the behaviour of others, so this behaviour can also easily spread to others in the flock and can lead to a high mortality. The injured chicken should be removed from the flock immediately and not returned until it has fully healed. Placing the bird in a wire dog crate in a pen next to or in the permanent coop has proven to be effective, as the birds can see one another but cannot cause physical harm. This may last up to a few weeks. Once you re-introduce the bird to the rest of the flock, make sure to monitor the birds closely as you may need to separate the birds and try again. If you have one chicken that is being aggressive, you may consider isolating that bird for a few days as generally the bird will be more submissive once it re-joins the flock.
Consider adding new enrichments to the coop and/or moving existing enrichments around to keep the environment new and interesting for the birds. Ensure your flock is fed a complete feed ration, with space at the feeders or waterers for each bird. This may mean adding additional feeders and waterers to your coop. Give your flock as much space as is feasible, and ensure there is adequate nest boxes (one nest box for every 3-4 birds is recommended).
Can There ‘Bee’ Welfare Concerns with Beekeeping?
As an employee of Alberta Farm Animal Care, animal welfare is something that is always very high on my radar, so when I became a Beekeeper this past year, that didn’t change. Now, as you are reading this, you are probably thinking one of three things:
1. Bees are insects- who cares?
2. I hate bees!
3. Of course, bee welfare is important; bees are vital to the ecosystem!
If you found yourself affiliating with 1, 2 or 3, please make sure to keep reading.
‘Bee’fore I got interested in bees, most of my animal handling knowledge was with cattle, and really there isn’t much difference. Essentially, the bees will treat you how you treat them!
Below you will find the top four factors that I always try to take into consideration to minimize the amount of stress that my bees have to endure.
1. Weather – Bees are very small insects, and therefore the weather can really affect the health of the bees, especially in the early spring when temperatures can still be quite low. While the Queen bee is in peak laying season (up to 2000 eggs a day), you want to be extra careful as the bees are working their hardest to regulate the temperature in the hive. Any unnecessary openings during extreme temperatures can affect the welfare of the bees and the success of the hive. Our rule of thumb is if bees flying in and out of the hive, we are good to go.
2. Time of Day – ‘Bee’lieve it or not, the time of day can really minimize stress on the bees too. Obviously, hives need to be checked- that is our responsibility as a beekeeper, but if you check the hive while most of the bees are out foraging, it makes things a lot easier for both you AND the bees. Not only does this increase the amount of room in the hive, but it also reduces the numbers of bees making it less likely for you to get stung, accidentally squish bees and allow you to get a better picture of the success of your hive. Win, win, win!
3. Gloves – One of the best pieces of advice I ever got before getting into beekeeping was never to wear gloves. Crazy right?? That’s what I thought too. However, the point of not wearing gloves is to encourage the beekeeper to think about things and move slowly and carefully. Bees won’t sting you unless you give them a reason to (usually), so as a beekeeper it is good to work with that in mind.
4. Smoker – The reason this is last on the list is that in my opinion if you are working with bees this should be a no-brainer. Every time the bees are inspected the smoker should be judicially used. There are different theories as to why the smoke calms the bees, but it does, and this should be used to your advantage. A few puffs at the beginning of the inspection is usually all you will need. Your burning material is up to you, but personally, we use untreated burlap.
All beekeepers are different, and there are many different ways to keep bees, but in my experience, the four points listed above make for happy bees AND a happy beekeeper!
The 2018 Livestock Care Conference marks a milestone as AFAC celebrates 25 years.
Welcome messages for the conference provided perspective on 25 years of progress, touching on the evolution of AFAC and farm animal care as well as the importance of continued collaboration and progress moving ahead.
Perspectives on progress
“AFAC is such an integral part of our livestock industry in Alberta today,” says Dianne Finstad, agriculture and rodeo reporter and longtime friend to agriculture in Alberta, who served as MC for the conference. “When we think about AFAC being formed 25 years ago, there is quite a legacy of progress to reflect upon. A quarter century is something to be proud of. It shows AFAC has staying power as an organization. It has a strong past. It has an important future.”
“Conferences like this are so important,” says Jamie Curran, Assistant Deputy Minister of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. “They are an opportunity for people and organizations with common goals and challenges to collaborate and discuss solutions. This year is especially significant as AFAC’s 25th anniversary. This milestone is an impressive achievement for any organization especially the first farm animal care group in all of Canada. It’s a perfect occasion to honor the past, learn together and to look to the future. In Alberta we’re fortunate to have an organization like AFAC dedicated to bringing the livestock industry together to advance and promote responsible animal care.”
“This year’s Livestock Care Conference is about celebrating the last 25 years and looking forward,” says Annemarie Pedersen, AFAC Executive Director. “It’s a great time to take stock of where we are today and where we want to go in the future. It’s an exciting time to be in the livestock sector. As a group we have a real opportunity to do something important and special together.”
“I’m so happy to be here today,” says Susan Church, founding Manager of AFAC. “Wow . . . 25 years . . . imagine. I am so proud to have been a part of this progressive and action-based organization. There have been so many pivotal moments and so many people who have played a role in supporting this organization and driving it forward. The people in this room are an example of that continued support today. The future is bright and we look forward to another 25 years and beyond for AFAC.”
The East Olds Dairy Farmers group won AFAC’s Award of Distinction for Communication and Lakeland College earned the Award of Distinction for Industry Leadership. Both Awards of Distinction are presented to individuals or groups who have made exceptional contributions to progress in farm animal care in Alberta and beyond.
East Olds Dairy Farmers Group
The East Olds Dairy Farmers Group is comprised of multiple dairy producers looking to constantly better themselves and leave a mark on their industry. Six years ago, they did just that by introducing the Breakfast on the Dairy Farm initiative. Just as its name implies, this initiative invites out urbanites to real-life dairy operations in the Olds area to experience true life at a farm level. Everything from production and welfare standards to the look, feel and smell of dairy barns.
From 348 people and one location in 2012 to nearly 1,000 visitors and a second farm by 2016, the event has positively contributed to the food dialogue between producers and consumers. The award is a testament to the group’s ongoing commitment to make their operations transparent and give a greater appreciation for their industry at large.
The Industry Leadership award went to Lakeland College for its high standards and ongoing commitment to animal welfare. The college puts its Animal Science Technology Program students through an entire semester of animal handling, welfare and ethics during their first year of studies.
The overarching goal is to have students become more involved and better the agriculture industry at large. The hands-on lab component teaches students low-stress handling techniques in many types of situations, such as handling facilities for sheep, beef and pasture settings. Students are taught to think outside the box, developing new, unique and suitable solutions for best management practices for their own operations or future careers.
Overall, both groups have made a commitment to their industry in unique ways and have earned well-deserved recognition by their peer groups. Congrats!!!
Featured speaker brings message encouragement to industry to continue to tell the good news in livestock
World renowned livestock welfare and handling expert Dr. Temple Gradin kept the crowd at the 2018 Alberta Farm Animal Care Livestock Care Conference enthralled as she spoke about animal welfare and many issues the industry faces today.
Having worked in the industry for more than 45 years, Grandin says she has much change, but one key issue remains—not enough people in the industry talk about the good news and positive developments that have happened over the years.
“We do a lot of great things but nobody knows about it,” says Grandin.
She gave the example of troublesome roosters she had observed more than 20 years ago where they would attack other birds and kill them. Today, through genetics, those issues are no longer around. However, when she went onto Google Scholar to try and read about the evolution in roosters. However, she came up dry. It’s a massive problem to have these good news stories that are nowhere to be found. Furthermore, she explained, proprietary research is growing and there is not as much public research available and that’s an issue, as well.
When it come to animal welfare, Dr. Grandin explained that measurable, not vague, tools are key. Dr. Grandin also explained how in supply chain management, these measurables are key for consumers, but also for the people involved in the supply chain itself. Without proper tracking and measuring, people aren’t sure how to improve or how to measure whether or not they have improved.
Among a wide ranging talk chock full on interesting insights and lessons, Grandin tackled the major challenge of how best to tell the story of animal care in livestock industries. Everyone can play a role, she said. “Put yourself out there. Make Facebook friends with more than just your farm friends. Connect with urban consumers. We all can have a role in reaching out and making a difference.”
Overall Grandin emphasized the importance of shared values and eating meat in a world where oftentimes opinion comes first and the news and facts come later.
Great job Sierra!
A great moment at #LCC2018 was when Sierra Brand of Rocky North 4-H Multiclub introduced Dr. Grandin. Awesome job Sierra!!!
This summer we met Dylan Biggs, the owner and operator of TK Ranch, at a low-stress cattle handling workshop. Upon meeting Dylan, the opportunity to visit his ranch for a day came up and without hesitation we took it!
TK Ranch has been operating since 1956, and today three generations live and work on the ranch. For over 50 years TK Ranch has been committed to producing sustainable, quality beef for Albertans. The ranch was started by Thomas Koehler Biggs and is located in the endangered Northern Fescue Grasslands of east-central Alberta.
As things in the agriculture industry started to change, both Dylan and Colleen were faced with the possibility of getting off-farm jobs to make ends meet. Dylan was busy working 14-hour days on the ranch and Colleen had to look for an off-farm job, “It didn’t take us long to fully understand that the only way to make a change in agriculture was to become the change itself”, said Biggs.
In the 90’s, direct marketing in the agriculture industry was almost unheard of. When Dylan and Colleen contacted Alberta Agriculture to get more information on starting a direct marketing operation, they were told it wouldn’t work and that they would fail. That’s when they decided to take the risk and became fully invested in the direct marketing of grass-fed beef.
TK Ranch has evolved from just the raising of livestock to being involved in every step along the marketing line. In 2016, TK Ranch built a fully functioning abattoir where they process their own cattle and pigs. This addition is what makes TK Ranch a true pasture-to-plate operation. Dylan and Colleen decided to make this expansion in their operation because they wanted to ensure that their animals were being treated with the greatest level of respect at slaughter.
Along with selling natural, dry-aged, grass-fed beef, they expanded their program to include grass-fed lamb, heritage pasture-raised pork, and free-range chicken.
TK Ranch has received many awards and recognition for their livestock practices over the years, the most recent being Alberta Farm Animal Care’s ‘Award of Distinction for Industry Leaders’ at the 2016 Livestock Care Conference. Dylan and Colleen were recognized by Alberta Farm Animal Care for their long-term commitment to animal welfare and producing food in a sustainable way.
Biggs is also known for hosting clinics on low-stress livestock handling and promoting best practices for ranching. During our visit to TK Ranch, we learned that he first found his passion for low-stress cattle handling from Bud Williams and has never looked back. We spent the day on horseback, and saw first-hand Biggs’ low-stress handling techniques.
The lessons about cattle handling that Biggs taught us will never be forgotten. His calm demeanor was contagious to us, the horses, dogs and cattle.
“In the horse world, we have no problem with the concept of training, because we need them to trust us; this is the same in the cattle industry.” Biggs is a big believer in having the cattle trust you, and that’s something that you can’t force
“As ranchers, we have an expectation that cattle should do what we want, when we want, but that isn’t how things work. We can’t force cattle to do what they don’t want to do, and we can’t force them to be calm. When working cattle, you must know what calm cattle look like to get calm cattle, and most ranchers and farmers get into trouble when they try to control upset cattle.”
TK Ranch is Animal Welfare Approved, which means they are audited in a number of areas to specific standards set by A Greener World. As well, their cattle and sheep are certified grass-finished, also by A Greener World.
With the standards that Dylan and Colleen have set on their ranch, they hope to create a transparent industry that consumers can trust. If you would like to read more about TK Ranch and find out how to order their products visit their website at www.tkranch.com
Wiolene Nordi and Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein
Sheep production in Canada is increasing (one million head on 11,000 farms of which 2,000 farms are in Alberta), due to the growing demand for lamb meat by consumers over the last five years as a result of growing ethnic markets. Consequently, both ewe flocks and growing/finishing lamb feedlots have been increasing in number and size within Alberta to meet the demand for this growing market.
Lameness is a common cause of welfare and economic concern in most sheep producing countries. For example, prevalence of lameness in UK sheep farms has been reported to be between eight and 10 per cent with the main cause being, interdigital dermatitis, severe footrot, ovine digital dermatitis, and shelly hoof (Kaler and Green 2009*). In Alberta, we see lame sheep on farms, feedlots, auctions and pasture. At one time, there was a provincial footrot eradication program. Veterinary inspections, foot trimming and foot-soaking were standard annual procedures for the 20,000 plus sheep that headed to B.C. forestry reserves. Despite all the effort, time and money, lame sheep are still common.
Healthy foot vs foot affected with foot rot
Canadian sheep and lamb producers consider lameness a serious health and welfare issue, resulting in high culls rates of breeding stock, reduced ewe productivity, slow growth performance of feeder lambs, and high labor and treatment costs to manage these animals. Lameness has long contributed to reduced animal productivity. It is associated with pain and discomfort and results in modifications to the animal’s gait; thus, reducing feed intake and increasing weight loss, labour and drug costs. One of the current challenges is accurately identifying lameness and making a correct diagnosis. At this time, very little has been published on the prevalence, risk factors, causative agents, and cost of lameness in Canadian sheepLame feedlot sheep
Consequently, a two year study (2018-2020) funded by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, the Alberta Lamb Producers, Van Raay Paskal Farms and Canada Gold Beef and co-lead by Dr. Karen Schwartzkopf-Genswein of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and Dr. Doerte Döpfer from the University of Wisconsin is currently underway. The research team also includes Dr. Joyce Van Donkersgoed (Alberta Beef Health Solutions), Dr. Kathy Parker (Sheep Health Solutions), Dr. Sonia Marti (IRTA, Barcelona Spain) and Dr. Wiolene Nordi who is the postdoctoral fellow conducting the study. The main objectives of their research will be to 1) determine the relative occurrence of lameness in feedlot lambs and ewe flocks, 2) characterize the types of lameness observed, 3) identify causative agents associated with lameness, and 4) document the transmission rates of the most prevalent cause of infectious lameness in feedlot sheep.
Knowledge generated by this research team on the occurrence, types and causes of lameness will help improve how producers and veterinarians diagnose lameness to improve prevention, treatment and control of the disease. This will benefit both animal health, welfare and production economics by providing sheep producers and small ruminant veterinarians with science-based information regarding disease diagnostics and animal management risk factors. This information is critical in mitigating the effects of lameness in the Alberta sheep industry. As well, it will help identify additional areas of research to help prevent the most common causes of lameness e.g. best management practices and new vaccines.
Research Team members needed:
YOU –THE PRODUCERS!
We invite you to help us study this problem so that together we can learn how to minimize sheep lameness and improve animal welfare and productivity.
What we are asking:
We are looking for producers who are willing to share information with us via mail, email, fax or text, in the event that they have a lameness case arise on their farm.
The information we would like you to collect includes animal identification, history of lameness for the animal and farm, diagnosis, treatment, results of treatment, photographs of lesion, comments such as severity of the lameness (ability to bear weight or not), recent weather events, and pen or pasture conditions (wet or dry).
Forms will be provided to facilitate recording and reporting cases of lameness.
For further information: firstname.lastname@example.org or 403-915-5864
By Dr. Darrell Dalton
In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the increased development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as a global crisis. Dr Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General of WHO stated, “Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.” This will affect generations to come. Later that year, our federal Minister of Health demanded that an action plan be developed by Health Canada to address this issue in Canada.
As a result, Health Canada has stated that as of December 1, 2018, all antimicrobials (an agent that kills microorganisms or stops their growth) will be available by prescription only under veterinary oversight. The government recognizes the important and critical role that veterinarians play (by virtue of their education, experience and accountability) in providing oversight of the use of antimicrobials. We know that 80% of all antimicrobials used are used in animal agriculture. Veterinarians are being given the great responsibility to be stewards of good antimicrobial use, and thus help in contributing to agriculture’s efforts to help slow or reverse the trends of AMR.
AMR occurs when microorganisms (germs, bacteria, fungi) become resistant to the antimicrobials to which they are exposed. Those of us involved in animal agriculture recognize that the use of antimicrobials plays an important role in our ability to raise and sell healthy animals. We must accept our responsibilities for not contributing to increased AMR occurring. This is what the new regulations around prescribing and dispensing of antimicrobials is hoping to address.
So, what does this mean to the average producer? If you have been working routinely with a veterinarian, you should notice minor or no changes. If you have not been associated with a veterinarian, then you should develop a relationship with one so that if the need arises, you will be able to obtain prescriptions for medications that your animals need. There will be no alternate pathway to access these medications.
A prescription from a veterinarian will be required to obtain all antimicrobials. After December 1, 2018 you will no longer be able to access any antimicrobial from a lay distributor, and will be required to have prescriptions dispensed (filled) either by a veterinarian or a pharmacist. By this date, all the labels for these products will indicate that they are by prescription only. In addition, on this date there will be no more claims for growth promotion on these products.
In addition, a veterinary prescription will be required prior to sale when an antimicrobial drug is mixed in livestock feeds. All approved in-feed drugs (including over-the-counter and prescription) are to be included in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Canadian Medicating Ingredient Brochure (CMIB) and can be mixed and sold by a feed mill. Medications to be mixed on farm will also require a prescription, and will only be sold by veterinarians or pharmacists.
Reduction of AMR is of importance to all of us. To accomplish this, it is going to take all of us working together. The use of antimicrobials in animals is a privilege that we must respect if we are going to maintain it.
By Katie Koralesky and David Fraser
On-farm emergency slaughter (OFES) is one end-of-life option for farm animals that cannot be transported humanely but are fit for human consumption. OFES – whereby veterinary inspection, stunning (using a firearm) and bleeding occur on the farm before the carcass is transported to a slaughterhouse for processing – is allowed in several Canadian provinces including Alberta. The stated goals of most OFES programs are to prevent undue suffering of an injured animal and to salvage meat.
In British Columbia, OFES is typically used for dairy cows, often in situations where there may be uncertainty over the diagnosis of the condition and prognosis for the cow. In British Columbia and elsewhere, OFES is a controversial practice that is used and supported by some farmers but not others. Therefore, we conducted two studies to first determine the types of injuries that lead to OFES, and second to identify perceptions and concerns about OFES. Study findings are highlighted below.
For the first study, we examined 812 OFES veterinary inspection documents from August 2014 to December 2015. The most common injuries were leg injuries (35% of total cases) with rear leg problems outnumbering front leg problems by 3:1. Full and partial hip dislocations accounted for 20% of total cases. 61% of nerve injuries (11.5% of total cases) were classified as damage to the obturator nerve, and foot injuries and lameness (7% of total cases) were most common among cows aged 5 years and older. Some documents included information about the number of days elapsed between the injury and OFES; these showed that OFES was sometimes done on the day of injury, but in other cases, several days passed before OFES was used.
To understand dairy industry professionals’ perceptions of OFES, we conducted 25 individual and 3 group interviews with 40 participants (farmers, veterinarians and others). We spoke with participants who supported and used OFES and those who did not. These discussions revealed positive and negative perceptions of OFES influenced by participants’ values, by how they perceived the operational legitimacy of OFES, and by concerns about social responsibility of the dairy sector.
Participants valued cow welfare, but some believed that OFES promoted fast decision-making for injured cows and was therefore positive for cow welfare, while others thought OFES prolonged animal suffering, for example if farmers waited for the veterinarian, transporter, or slaughterhouse to be available rather than doing prompt euthanasia. Participants also appreciated that OFES offered an opportunity to salvage meat from an animal they had raised and cared for.
Photo credit: https://www.dairynz.co.nz/media/5789266/checklist_for_transporting_cows_dnz50_005_april_2018_update.pdf
Participants also questioned whether veterinarians may be put into a conflict between their duty to verify an animals’ eligibility for OFES and their client’s desire to use the program. Additionally, some participants felt that if veterinarians were not consulted first on the animals’ eligibility for OFES, they may feel pressured to endorse the farmers’ decision to proceed.
Finally, while some participants saw OFES as a positive opportunity to avoid the inhumane transport of cows to public auction, others saw it as a stop-gap rather than a satisfactory solution to compromised cow management. Some participants thought it better to proactively cull animals that are at risk of developing problems in the future, and to use prompt euthanasia for injured animals. Finally, participants also expressed concern over food safety depending on hygiene at the site of slaughter.
We combined study findings and developed recommendations for the OFES program that retain its positive features and address valid concerns:
1) Clarification is needed on what conditions (e.g. fractures versus lameness) are allowable for OFES.
2) Precise timing parameters are needed to avoid inappropriate delays.
3) Veterinarians need training on how to verify animals’ eligibility for OFES.
4) Veterinarians should be designated as the first point of contact in the OFES process.
5) Proactive culling should become the norm so that emergency procedures like OFES are needed less often; however, each farm should have an end-of-life decision-making protocol to use when necessary.
6) OFES needs to be conducted in a hygienic location with appropriate equipment.
For further information please email Katie Koralesky at email@example.com. The University of British Columbia Animal Welfare Program is grateful to the study participants and the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture for the provision of the documents. General funding for the Animal Welfare Program is provided by NSERC, the British Columbia Dairy Association, the Dairy Farmers of Canada and many others listed at http://awp.landfood.ubc.ca/ Parts of this article are from:https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2017-14320 and a UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre Research Report (Vol 18, No 1).
By Roy Lewis DVM
Bison handlers know how quick and flighty bison can be when confined or stressed. They appear to have no respect for their bodies. We as their keepers must eliminate areas and conditions that place them at risk.
In the past it wasn’t uncommon to loose a bison from a broken neck or to have several injure themselves while they were being handled. As bison handlers we have improved our practices significantly but there is still room for improvement. We must be proactive as an industry. My goal in this article is to provide some suggestions for everyone handling bison as well as share some thought provoking scenarios.
There has not been much research done on handling bison. Much of the information is anecdotal and based on the experience of those in the bison industry. Researcher by people such as Temple Grandin and her graduate students have started to investigate bison handling issues. Manufacturers of bison handling equipment have developed equipment incorporating feedback from producers to minimize animal injuries while protecting the handlers. We as producers should always look for ways to improve our handling techniques.
As a veterinarian I use several measuring sticks to measure my success at handling bison. Minor injuries such as bloody noses or a broken horn are mentally noted – their frequency and where they have occurred. You can also monitor the percent of bison that fall and the per cent that hit fences and gates including the location. There could be several very different causes from the obvious ones such as handling setup, experience of the workers, flightiness of the bison to less obvious such as weather (overcast versus sunny), time of day (are shadows being cast), time of year (rut versus non breeding season), wind causing a tarp to flap, or delays in handling that allow bison to get agitated. Serious injuries such as broken necks, broken noses, leg injuries or bison getting caught by horns or legs should have their cause researched and processes developed so these injuries are not repeated. Learn from our mistakes. Solutions to some of these injuries range from tarping gates for slowing bison down to making handling facilities taller so jumping is not even attempted.
Handling facilities need to be around seven feet tall to prevent bison from jumping. Placing roofs over chutes or handling boxes also tends to slow bison down and keep them calmer. Trying to jump over panels can trap legs with legs slipping between the panel and post. Guards placed over the top of these areas prevent that from occurring.
Bison are flight animals and their flight zone is much, much larger than that of cattle. Most times slower movement with only slight body language will get the job done. Most handling areas are pretty much enclosed. If areas are too closed in, bison may try to hide in those areas. One solid side with the other partially open so bison can partially see the handler will facilitate movement. Stay a distance away so they don’t become agitated.
When processing bison I like to use various forms of handling aids. First is simply moving towards them. Minimal body language will often work. If increasing pressure is required I will first use waving devices or flags and as necessary followed by paddles that rattle. The final aid may be a stock prod but only if ABSOLUTELY necessary! Often a few seconds delay between these handling methods is all that is necessary for the bison to proceed on their own. Generally we keep the stock prod away from the working area and use it only when absolutely necessary and only as a last resort. I have seen systems where 300 bison were processed and the prod was used only a couple of time. Should a prod be necessary, generally one quick touch is all that is necessary to gain movement. Remember that when bison go down in the chute, releasing the side squeeze is all that is often required. Also, if possible, it is helpful to evaluate the circumstances that caused the need for the stock prod so that they can be avoided in the future.
The best advice I can give is to all bison farmers of ranchers is to help other producers when they handle their bison. There is always something to be learned or shared. We often see producers with experience helping others. Having an experienced crew goes a long ways to minimizing problems. I find at times it is necessary to work bison slowly while there will be other occasions you will need to work quickly when a gate or slider needs to be closed or open.
Sorting and breaking of the herd into smaller groups can be done patiently by baiting with feed. Time spent here with the person and tractor or feed truck that they are familiar with will save time later as small groups do not create the “bunching” problems of larger herds. Large groups in enclosed areas with distinct tight corners are areas where most of the goring and trampling injuries can occur. The big bulls and older cantankerous cows are the cause of a majority of these injuries.
Before you design and build your handling facility, evaluate facilities of other producers. You can learn much from the experience of others. Design your handling area so that most barriers are solid and that there are no places where the bison can get a long run. Neck injuries are often the result of fast running bison crashing headlong into solid barriers. Again most producers only open the head chute when bison are in the chute to prevent them running headlong into the crash gate. Some crash gates are spring loaded and padded to minimize injuries.
The farmers and ranchers in the bison industry have made significant progress in improving their bison handling skills. Major injuries are rare and minor injuries such as horn damage or bloody noses are becoming uncommon. Monitor bison injuries when you handle your bison. Each time you handle bison, try and improve the outcome from the time before. There are times when patience is a virtue.
Caroline Ritter and Herman Barkema, University of Calgary
Dairy farmers have to balance industry standards, consumer expectations, and economic sustainability of their farm, while concurrently addressing their own standards and priorities. A better understanding of the influences behind farmers’ decision-making will enable policy-makers to design more effective disease control programs and facilitate program delivery and implementation.
For her research in Dr. Barkema’s Industrial Research Chair in Infectious Diseases of Dairy Cattle, Caroline Ritter, a veterinarian from Germany and current PhD student at the University of Calgary, conducted interviews and questinnaires with dairy farmers. One objective was to determine farmers’ preferences regarding how to receive information on farm management and disease control. For example, do they prefer printed information or discussion groups? Knowing farmers preferred sources for information should facilitate communications.
Another major focus was to visit dairy farmers to discuss Johne’s disease and the Alberta Johne’s Disease Initiative (AJDI), to learn from their feedback, improve similar programs, and ultimately increase participation in disease control. Concurrently, environmental manure samples were collected and approximately half of the farms were positive for Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP), the organism causing Johne’s disease. Furthermore, she determined that farmers with a MAP-infected herd were not more or less likely to enroll in the AJDI as farmers with noninfected herds.
Research conducted at the University of Calgary confirmed that the herd veterinarian has a major influence on decision-making by many dairy farmers, particularly regarding implementation of management practices. A better understanding of how veterinarians communicate with farmers to educate and give advice will help to better understand management decisions of dairy farmers and prepare future veterinarians for more effective dairy practice. To assess communication and topics during herd health visits, veterinarians in Alberta and Ontario were equipped with video cameras to record a total of 100 farm visits. Analysis of these recordings is underway.
Understanding what factors influence farmers’ decision-making, how farmers prefer to receive information, and how veterinarians can communicate more effectively with farmers are important steps towards improving animal health and welfare.
Caroline Ritter’s research was funded by the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Infectious Diseases of Dairy Cattle, Alberta Milk, the Margaret Gunn Endowment for Animal Research, and the Izaak Walton Killam Trust.
Diego Nobrega, Herman Barkema, University of Calgary
As antimicrobial resistance is a global concern, there is a broad push to reducing antibiotic use. For example, in the dairy sector, selective dry cow therapy (only some cows or quarters are treated at drying off) is being promoted in lieu of traditional blanket dry cow therapy involving treatment of every quarter.
Dr. Diego Nobrega, a Brazilian veterinarian doing his PhD at the University of Calgary with Dr. Herman Barkema, is characterizing antimicrobial resistance in bacteria isolated from milk. A major focus of Barkema’s group as the Industrial Research Chair in Infectious Diseases of Dairy Cattle is to reduce antimicrobial resistance in dairy herds but concurrently to sustain the health and welfare of dairy cows. “The idea is to reduce antibiotic use, but ensuring that they are still used when truly needed” says Diego.
They recently studied associations between antibiotic use and resistance in herds of the Canadian Bovine Mastitis and Milk Quality Research Network. These herds had a wide range in levels of antibiotic use. The goal was to determine whether herds that had a lower use of antibiotics, including herds that used selective dry cow therapy, had less antimicrobial resistance in milk-borne bacteria.
Despite an intuitive notion that reducing antibiotic use will reduce antimicrobial resistance, they determined that the major risk factor for antimicrobial resistance was systemic use of antibiotics (injected into a muscle, under the skin or into a vein). Therefore, antimicrobial resistance was increased by systemic antibiotic thereapy, but not by infusing antibiotics into the udder (for clinical mastitis or dry cow therapy). Dr. Barkema concluded that “It seems antibiotics administered systemically are creating an environment favorable for developing antimicrobial resistance in bacteria present in the milk.”
According to their findings, use of selective dry cow therapy is unlikely to alter the incidence of antimicrobial resistance, although it will reduce antibiotic use. “Irrespective of the lack of associations between intramammary use and resistance, the dairy sector should decrease the use of antibiotics to retain its social license”, says Dr. Herman Barkema.
They also observed that the systemic use of three drug classes, all of high or very high importance for human medicine, was associated with resistance. “Third-generation cephalosporins, macrolides and penicillins are considered critically important antimicrobials for human medicine; two of them are in the highest priority category, according to the World Health Organization” says Dr. Diego Nobrega.
In summary, herds that use selective dry cow therapy used less antibiotics; however, that was not associated with less antimicrobial resistance in bacteria isolated from milk. Further work is needed to improve the use of antibiotics, including ways to limit systemic treatments. Although selective dry cow therapy will reduce total use of antibiotics, rational use of systemic antibiotics is expected to have a greater impact on antimicrobial resistance.
The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pullets and Laying Hens requires that:
“All hens must be housed in enriched cage or non-cage housing systems that meet this Code’s requirements by July 1, 2036.”
Faced with this upcoming requirement, producers have many questions to consider:
Enriched cages or non-cage housing?
Renovate an old barn or build new?
How will my management practices change?
Will my feed costs go up or down?
How will my lighting change?
And on and on and on…
On November 15th, 2017 the Canadian Poultry Magazine hosted the webinar “Phasing Out Conventional – What to Consider and How to Prepare,” presented by Bill Snow and Ron Wardrop with Big Dutchman. This presentation offered information for producers to consider when making the transition away from conventional cages.
In addition to housing for layers, the talk touched on rearing pullets in preparation for enriched cages or non-cage housing. This is an important time for the birds to learn how to navigate an open system, especially in a non-cage system. The birds will then be ready to jump from tier to tier in their layer facility comfortably and with less stress.
Enriched cages and non-cage housing systems each have their pros and cons. Producers need to consider all the information available to them and decide on what works best for their operation and their management styles. The image below is a comparison of just some of the things producers need to consider in either system.
One thing you’ll notice is that the aisle width in the non-cage housing systems is over twice the width of the enriched caged. This is because in an enriched caged system the birds are still in cages, but the cages are larger and are enriched with perches, nest boxes, dust bathes, etc. In the cage-free systems, the birds are allowed to roam the aisle and jump from tier to tier. The aisles need to be wide to accommodate the birds, the litter, and to allow personnel to walk up and down the aisles and check on the birds without disturbing them.
We can’t possibly cover everything touched on in the webinar in this blog post, but we hope we’ve sparked your interest and we encourage you to watch the full webinar at the link below!
What is the future of farm animal care in Alberta?
A lot of progress has taken place over 25 years. Continual improvement is the key to the future.
The next generation has a strong role to play in defining the path forward. That is why it was so important to have strong student participation at the 2018 Livestock Care Conference. In all, 49 students participated in the Meet the Experts session and attended the conference.
“We are very pleased with the strong student involvement in this year’s conference,” says Annemarie Pedersen, AFAC Executive Director. “Students represent the future. We have a bright future to look forward to. A big thank-you to our conference student sponsors who helped make this possible.”
Left: UFA sponsored students
Right: Alberta Beef sponsored students
(Photos from #LCC2018 used on this blog page, as well as some additional photo options, are available on request for use by media and industry. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to request photos.)
Working together. Breaking down silos. Pushing the pace of innovation. Telling our story.
These are just a few among many areas of advancement discussed and showcased at the 2018 Livestock Care Conference, which was attended by over 200 people representing many key sectors and stakeholders of the Alberta livestock industry and farm animal care community.
The conference featured a number of top speakers and addressed many hot topics shaping the future of farm animal care in the province.
The number one take home message: Don’t stop here . . . take the information, messages and momentum from this conference and keep pushing the pace of progress.
This was reinforced in many talks, including a wrap-up session on Engaging the Public – How to Tell YOUR story, led by Annemarie Pedersen AFAC Executive Director and followed by a case study example from by Kristen Hall, AFAC Marketing and Membership Coordinator (who is also B-E-O of a bee operation, Bee My Honey, who is a big
BEE-liever in social media and other tools to tell your story).
AFAC has come a long way over 25 years. So has its signature event – the Livestock Care Conference. Just as important as the organization and the conference are the people who make up the industry that drives both.
Many speakers at #LCC2018 touched on the theme of celebrating the past while embracing the future. The work that the livestock industry in Alberta embraces to promote animal welfare and collaborative approaches plays significant a role in the future of animal agriculture in the province. It’s a role that has never been more important as AFAC looks ahead to the next 25 years.
Drs. Jennifer Brown and Egan Brockhoff shared a raft of exciting findings and research related to pig health at the 2018 Alberta Farm Animal Care Livestock Care Conference in Olds, Alta., March 15, 2018.
Dr. Brown spoke candidly about how the shift towards antibiotic free systems will be important when producers are moving onto new systems compliant with changing industry standards and expectations.
“We have to think about them in a different way again,” said Dr. Brown regarding the current systems in place, including antibiotic use, gestational housing and concentrated diets. “The rubber is hitting the road and now we’re working with industry and seeing major changes and improvements.”
She said Canadian swine producers should be proud of what they’ve done and said with new space allowances, practices related to tail docking, castration, life enrichment and housing options will be critical to the next generation of integrated swine management.
Dr. Brockhoff also spoke of the new developments in the industry and talked about how swine welfare has never been better in Canada. While there have been many changes and more coming, producers are beginning to take measures to improve outcomes for their swine in many different ways.
He said producers are moving pigs into new dynamic finisher barns that are very effective. Before, static groups in a pen would cause many issues, including fighting.
“Now, we have dynamic groups with electronic sow feeders (ESF),” he said. “Each pen has a weight curve. There’s 15-20 animals moving into new pens constantly and the farmer doesn’t even have to handle the pigs until loading and processing.”
In addition, new handling practices from human labour has made great gains for the overall health of the pigs. With electronic modules for employees to learn from standardized modules, people are tested on 70 key competencies. The results have been dramatic: 85 per cent competency vs. 59 per cent when learning from a manager in a barn situation.
“It’s important to set the tone properly with swine health management because people will repeat the actions of others around them,” he said.
Brockhoff also talked about simple, yet highly effective systems such as no ramp loading onto trucks for pigs and how the stress levels and incidents have gone done because the animals have difficulty ascending and descending.
Dr. Clover Bench spoke about the history of poultry health at the Alberta Farm Animal Care Livestock Care Conference in Olds, Alta., March 15, 2018.
She explained how one of the biggest shifts since the 1930s has been a move away from curiosity-based research to traditional scientific research covering a multitude of welfare areas.
With battery cages and automation on the rise since the early- to-mid-60s, the next 15 years saw a shift into investigating the birds’ mental health and stressors such as suffering and frustration.
Recent developments to increased poultry welfare since 2015 now include the “5 domains” which includes: Environment, Behaviour, Mental state, Nutrition and Health.
New advances in poultry research is now allowing Dr. Bench to apply model markers on the birds and creating a 3-D tracking image, which lets her track the animal’s movements and study them in ways like never before. This research is valuable to know how the bird’s movements may be affected by various housing situations, body stressors and diet.
Dr. Joyce Van Donkersgoed
With increasing questions from the public on how livestock are raised, processors are increasingly pressured to provide proof that the fed cattle they purchase meet recognized welfare standards. National Cattle Feeders Association (NCFA), along with our federal processors, built a national feedlot welfare assessment/audit tool to provide reassurances to retailers and the public that feedlot cattle in Canada are raised humanely.
Over the last 3 years, an Animal Care Advisory Committee consisting of experts from Cargill, JBS, Tyson Foods, feedlot producers, feedlot veterinarians, animal scientists, and ethologists worked together to develop a practical, credible, and scientifically sound feedlot audit tool that would improve animal welfare while providing necessary reassurances to the public. The Canadian Beef Code of Practice was used as a basis for the development of the audit tool, along with information from the North American Meat Institute cattle handling audit tool, the US Beef Quality Assurance feedlot guidelines, and the Common Swine Industry Audit.
The audit tool was pilot tested across 32 feedlots of varying sizes across Canada and revised based on input from producers. As well, 2 large retail meetings were held in Calgary and Toronto gathering input from retailers, such as McDonalds, Walmart, Sobeys, Loblaws, Federated Co-op, and Overwaitea.
The Committee submitted the updated audit tool to the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO) for certification against its international welfare standards. The audit tool was also submitted to National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) to receive recognition as having following their animal care assessment framework process. The audit tool received NFACC recognition and was certified by PAACO in December 2015 and fully recertified again in 2017.
During 2016 and 2017 additional feedlot benchmark pilot tests were done and the tool further refined. NCFA worked with PAACO to develop a PAACO certified 3rd party auditor training program as requested by our processors and retailers. The first PAACO feedlot auditor training program took place in Lethbridge in September with 16 participants, including participants from 3rd party audit companies like IMI Global, Food Safety Net Services (FSNS), and NSF International.
To help producers implement the animal health and welfare program on their operation and in preparation for audits from processors and retailers, NCFA has developed an eLearn training program on the NCFA webpage, along with other supporting materials, including the feedlot audit guide and audit checklist, articles on how to implement the program, and generic templates for protocols required in the program. Feedlot producers are encouraged to work with their feedlot veterinarians and nutritionists to implement the program.
Sections in the audit tool include:
1. Feedlot’s commitment to animal care;
4. Cattle handling;
6. Animal health;
9. Other feedlot working animals (horses, dogs); and
10. Egregious acts of neglect and wilful acts of abuse.
There is a requirement in the program that producers conduct their own self-assessment at least once annually to identify ways to continually improve animal health and welfare.
Many yards in Alberta are already implementing the program with the help from their feedlot veterinarians. The audit tool is a living document and as new information becomes known on cattle health and welfare and more audits are conducted with feedback from producers, the audit tool will be refined and kept current.
Funding for development of the program has been through the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency and Growing Forward Programs both provincially and federally.
For further information on the Canadian Feedlot Animal Care Assessment program, please contact NCFA (www.nationalcattlefeeders.ca).
By Victoria Kouritzin
Through genetic selection, the modern day broiler has undergone improvements in appetite, its ability to efficiently gain weight, and in its survivability. However, the resulting rapid growth in commercial broiler strains may also effect broiler gait. Broiler during a gait assessment trial wearing reflective markers for kinematic evaluation Current gait assessment methods can be subjective as they rely on observers to determine the quality of a broiler’s gait using a short multi-point scale. This often results in subtle lameness being missed as most assessment methods were designed to only give an indication of either no problem or whether there is a severe gait concern. Therefore, there is need for more objective means of assessing subtle differences in broiler gait. At the University of Alberta, applied ethologist, Dr. Clover Bench, and her team, are working on a new way to analyse and evaluate broiler gait using 3D kinematic motion capture technology. The results of this research will provide broiler genetics companies with a new means of assessing gait which could be included as part of selection programs.
Dr. Bench’s research program specializes in fine movements in an animal’s behaviour which cannot be detected without the aid of a digital medium. Her goal is to develop more objective and automated ways of evaluating animal behaviour and welfare states using technology platforms like 3D kinematics and infrared thermography. These sensitive technologies enable more precise measurements compared with current visual-based methods, allowing researchers to better understand the biomechanics of an animal’s movements and to better evaluate welfare phenotypes.
Currently, this broiler gait assessment research is in its infancy, but has already reached some significant milestones including the recent successful construction of a 3D kinematic model which was built by Sarah Nowicki, a recent graduate and member of Dr. Bench’s lab. “It’s one thing to read about the technology, but it is entirely different to actually watch the broilers in the system and see how accurately slight movements can be measured,” says Nowicki. Broiler during a gait assessment trial with kinematic cameras that record the subtle movements of reflective markers.
In order to build the model, broilers were taught to walk down a runway wearing reflective markers attached to important skeletal landmarks and joints associated with the legs, hips and back. Then, special kinematic cameras were used to digitally record the movements of each reflective marker as part of a 3D model of the broiler skeleton. Each model is built using several different time points in order to capture gait changes throughout broiler development.
In an upcoming trial, the gait of different strains of broilers will be recorded and assessed using the new kinematic method developed by Dr. Bench’s research group. In collaboration with the University of Alberta’s Dr. Graham Plastow (CEO for Livestock Gentec), gait types identified will then be compared to genomic test results in order to determine whether specific genomic markers are responsible for variations in gait phenotypes.
This research is funded by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s Strategic Research and Development Grant Program.
Bill desBarres – Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada
Compared to other sectors of the livestock industry equine may be classed as more fragmented. Many, if not most of the other livestock species are under or within umbrella organizations. Species populations in much of the livestock industry are concentrated by flocks, feedlots, herds etc. It may be submitted that for the most part patrons and enthusiasts of the equine sector may have fewer than four animals. For the most part owners of equine may not be members of a breed, discipline or other organization. This would submit most of the horse owners in Canada may be driven by a narrow passion. Therefore it may be reasonable to assume technical and/or science based research and the results thereof have not been adequately identified or circulated. We have not learned the priorities of need or how to direct the information to the majority of the equine community. Within very recent years efforts have commenced to identify critical areas of concern within the equine sector of the livestock industry.
1. BIOSECURITY: Biosecurity is a preventative process to reduce the chances of infectious diseases. The practice of biosecurity should be a planned process on every property where animals and/or humans frequent or reside. In 2011 Alberta Equestrian Federation (AEF) initiated a project with the cooperation of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Growing Forward to promote more and better biosecurity practices in the equine community. The project grew to become a National program with the National Farm and Facility Level Biosecurity Standard for the Equine Sector manual now in print and available from all provincial/territorial and other equine organizations.
2. DISEASE SURVEILLANCE: Equine disease surveillance is extremely important to the health and welfare of animals, trade and public health including the ability to transport equine with minimal restrictions. It is, and will be critical to establish a path that will increase and facilitate communication respecting established and new infectious diseases with current and reliable reporting for horse custodians, owners, veterinarians and other equine stakeholders. Members of the Canadian Animal Health Surveillance System (CAHSS) are engaged in a communication strategy to better protect horses and the horse industry in Canada in cooperation with the Equine Disease Communication Centre (EDCC) in the United States. The communication system will be designed to seek and report real time information respecting disease identification and outbreaks through the Equine National Health Surveillance Network.
3. SURVEY OF AWARENESS, IMPLEMENTATION AND COMPLIANCE TO THE CODE OF PRACTICE: The survey is targeted at all aspects and participants of the Canadian equine industry including but not limited to horse owners, custodians, equine based businesses and equestrians to determine knowledge and compliance to the standards and requirements set forth in the Code document. Code documents have been created for each livestock species in Canada. The sustainability of Canada’s equine industry depends in large part on a degree of education and communications available to horse owners. The Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada (HWAC) national survey (www.horsewelfare.ca) is a pre-cursor to the development of an animal care assessment program for equine, the framework (www.nfacc.ca) of which has been developed through the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC).
4. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: Fires, floods, vehicle incidents, building collapse and other disastrous events in recent years have indicated a lack of preparation to manage unforeseen and unplanned events. The Alberta Equestrian Federation has completed a survey and is proceeding to establish a collaborative program to include equine industry partners, government agencies and municipal representatives including indigenous communities. The program when completed will have developed tools, training programs and an Equine Emergency Resource Team that will improve efficiency and safety of people and equine that may be involved in an emergency situation.
Nowadays, the producer and the consumer are floating further and further apart, and interaction is a rare sight.
Alberta Open Farm Days is a weekend that allows members of the public to visit farmers that are willing to open their doors for the event! The two-day event, which was held August 19-20, allows consumers to see with their own eyes where their food comes from and ‘meat’ the farmers that produce it!
There were 101 locations open during open farm days, ranging from crop farms, livestock farms, bee businesses, counties, distilleries, and event centres. Out of all the locations open we were able to visit 5 farms throughout the weekend!
The five farms included one of our member’s farms, Winter’s Turkeys, and four other farms that are local to the Calgary area: Country Lane Farms, Glengary Bison, Trails End Beef and Your Local Ranch Ltd.
All farms were very welcoming to us and to the public that were touring their operations.
While we were touring the farms we got the chance to talk to some of the producers and ask them why they choose to open their doors on this special weekend throughout Alberta.
Country Lane Farms:
Jerry Kamphuis has a different kind of broiler barn. What makes his a bit different than other barns in the industry is that there are three different ages of birds that are in the same barn at one time. In the barn, there are three different rooms: the brooder room which housed 1500 chicks that were three days old; grower room 1 which housed 1500 birds that were 30 days old; and grower room 2 had another 1500 birds that were 52 days olds.
It’s pretty uncommon to see three different ages of birds all under one roof, since transfer of disease can occur quickly in the poultry industry, but Country Lane Farms is taking all aspects of biosecurity into account and making their operation very successful.
Jerry, along with his wife and family, decided to open their barn doors during Open Farm Days for two reasons, “First I believe the consumer is getting too far removed from where there food comes from and need more opportunities to get to the farm. Second these new people are great prospects to become regular customers of ours.”
Your Local Ranch:
Your Local Ranch Ltd. is a family owned and operated cattle ranch located in Airdrie, Alberta and have been there for over 40 years. Along with cattle they also have Quarter Horses, heavy horses and some chickens on their farm. Wayne and Ronda Hanson are the primary operators along with their children, and family they are currently raising commercial cattle but have a ranching history of raising purebred horned Hereford cattle, and later Red Angus.
Along with raising their own animals, they also sell the meat from their beef cattle right on site. They have a store on their farm that is open three days a week as well as an online store.
“We tag the calves when they are born, so they are completely traceable, so when we sell the meat through our store, we know exactly what animal you are buying from.”
When I was talking to Ronda about their operation, you could hear the passion and love for their animals and their ranch in her voice, “We are very proud of our livestock, whether that be the chickens, or our calves, and we are very happy when people want to see our cattle.” Ronda and Wayne were both very happy to answer questions that people had about their operation or about agriculture in general and when they answered, they not only wanted to share their knowledge but their passion as well.
Since Your Local Ranch Ltd. is open three days a week already, it only made sense for Ronda and Wayne along with their family to open their doors to the public for Open Farm Days, “We see more people now than ever that want to experience this kind of life, we thought since we are already open, this weekend is just another avenue that people can take to come to this place and see a bunch of different agriculture”
One defining quality that sets Your Local Ranch Ltd. apart from other operations is that they hand feed all of their feeder calves in the morning and at night. They also have a very small carbon footprint, since they use literal horsepower to feed and bed their cattle in the winter months. They do have one tractor on site, but it is very seldom used.
We were lucky enough to visit a few more farms over the weekend,
where we got some amazing pictures!
Dr. Gosia Zobel, AgResearch Ltd.
As the public becomes more knowledgeable and more aware of food production practices, the need to provide assurances about the quality of life of our farm animals is growing in importance. This is, however, easier said than done given that many of the people not involved in agriculture rarely ask about how much milk a cow is producing but rather focus their questions on whether she is ‘happy’. As a behaviour scientist working in the Animal Welfare Team at AgResearch in New Zealand, I have been given the mandate to look for ways to ask cows how they feel – in essence I am trying to find ways to determine their emotional response. My work is supported by DairyNZ Ltd., an industry organization representing New Zealand’s dairy farmers. The industry recognizes that a good life for cows is not simply about the absence of negative experiences, but also the provision for positive ones.
This recognition poses a new question to scientists working with farm animals: namely – how do we measure how a cow is feeling? Obviously we can’t just simply ask her! Fortunately, there are a number of well-established scientific methods to approach this. Although the cow can’t tell us how she is feeling we can ask her to show us.
“Although the cow can’t tell us how she is feeling we can ask her to show us”
Evaluating anticipatory behaviour is a common method that has been used to help us understand the emotions of an animal. This is done by initially training an animal that, after a specific signal, will be given a reward. Then, by varying the time in between the signal and the reward, the animal will display certain behaviours while it waits – we refer to these as anticipatory behaviours. People that own a dog who loves to go for walks will see this every day! Think about how your dog reacts when you pick up the leash. Does your dog get excited as it anticipates the walk? What does the dog do if the phone rings and you take longer than normal to go for a walk or if your plans change all of a sudden and you put
the leash back in the drawer? You are observing anticipatory behaviour!
Once an animal learns to associate a signal with receiving a reward,researchers can measure the animal’s anticipation in the period between the signal and the reward, and then how this behaviour changes if the time between the signal and the reward is shorter or longer. If the reward is very important, we expect animals that show greater anticipation to be feeling more positive. This technique is well established in dogs and laboratory rodents, but until recently it has not been used in cattle.
In my work in New Zealand, I am using a similar experimental procedure to ask questions about how young dairy calves feel. I was fortunate to have Heather Neave, a Ph.D. student from my own alma matter, the University of British Columbia’s Animal Welfare Program, come and work with me for 6 months. Heather taught two groups of calves that after a signal, in this case a flashing light, they would soon get access to either more space or more space enriched with a brush and a hanging rope. We then increased the time between the flashing light and when the calves received access to the reward.
The first step of our analysis has been to identify any anticipation. We have identified one very promising behaviour where the calves shift their attention rapidly back and forth between the flashing light and the exit door leading to the extra space. What we are now looking at is to see if the calves that received the enriched space as their reward showed more of this anticipatory behaviour than the calves that were only given access to more space.
The exciting thing about research like this is that it often has multiple outcomes. While our goal was to indirectly assess animal emotion, the results also showed that calves interacted a lot with a rope and brushes in the enriched space; this is important information in itself, as it tells us that calves housed in standard housing would appear to benefit from some sort of enrichment.
Dr. Zobel studied animal welfare in the Animal Welfare Program at the University of British Columbia, conducting research in feeding behaviour in feedlot cattle, behaviour of dairy cattle around dry-off, and management of dairy goats. She is actively involved in both dairy cow and dairy goat research projects in New Zealand. The research program consists of a mix of work that can be immediately beneficial to producers and their animals, and more blue sky research questions that are anticipated to be found useful by industry in the future.
Dedicated, with love, to Banana the cat
Dr. Victoria Sandilands, Behavioural Scientist
The poultry industry has evolved over the last several decades and it is important to understand how and why those changes have taken place. In this article we will explore the modern laying hen and why we can be proud of these birds.
The modern laying hen evolved from the insectivorous jungle fowl, which lived in dense forests and spent 60-80% of the day foraging. Historically speaking, poultry were the responsibility of the “farmer’s wife”. It was her job to feed and house the birds as well as to collect the eggs. These systems were largely outdoors with many birds running around freely during the day to peck and scratch for feed. The birds themselves were typically dual purpose and kept on mixed farms. Housing was in mixed sex groups, in naturally lit barns or outdoors. Shelter was sometimes provided in the form of a coop that birds would use to roost in at night. Birds were fed home-grown cereals and kitchen scraps. They received little to no vaccination or health care and were largely exposed to predators. For these reasons, birds did not grow to their full potential.
As we began to better understand the needs of the laying hen, it became apparent that these animals needed to be cared for more intensively. Divergence began wherein birds were selected either for egg laying or meat production, but not both. Vaccines were developed, compound feed with added vitamins and minerals was created, and different housing systems were developed. Conventional housing systems (also called “battery” cages) came into style in the 1950s. In these systems, farmers could make better use of space (due to tiered cages), could easily identify and cull poor producers, and ensure proper hygiene of the birds because they were separated from their droppings, resulting in reduce disease and mortality.
Proportion (%) of laying hens housed, or egg produced, in different housing systems in the UK (Hewson 1986, Defra 2016)
Many of these changes have been positive for the welfare of the birds but have also introduced unique animal welfare concerns. As such, systems have again shifted to either free-run or enriched/furnished cage systems, both of which better provide for the behavioural needs of the birds in comparison to conventional systems.
Pullets are provided with ad lib access to compound feed, fresh water, shelter, heated housed, and vaccinations. They may be raised in either cages or free-run in a barn. The birds are routinely beak trimmed at one day old using infrared laser treatments. Beak trimming is done to reduce damage caused by feather pecking and cannibalism later in life. Although bans on beak trimming have been attempted, the evidence has shown that the risk to birds is so much higher without trimming. Important considerations, however, are that:
– You are removing sensitive tissue (the beak tip)
– If a hot blade is used instead of infrared laser, it can cause neuroma formation in adult birds
– Infrared treatment has short-term effects on beak related behaviours (such as foraging or exploratory pecking)
– We are not treating the problem – why do birds peck each other?
We now know that there are a few management changes that can be made to help prevent feather pecking in a flock. These include:
– The use of dark brooders
– Making the rearing environment as similar to the laying environment as possible so that the transition is not as traumatic
– Getting chicks used to variety so that novelty is not upsetting
– Walk the flock at different times in different clothing
– Use various noises – a bucket falling, door banging, radio playing
Pullets are transferred to the laying barn at approximately 16 weeks of age and are placed in either enriched/furnished cages or a single tier or multi-tier aviary barn. Free-range birds are also provided with an outdoor area.
“While enriched cages are a wonderful improvement over conventional systems,
they are not without issue”
Enriched or furnished cages are enhanced with scratching areas, nestboxes, and perches. While enriched cages are a wonderful improvement over conventional systems, they are not without issue. Some of these include the following:
– Hens cannot express all natural behaviours (such as dust bathing)
– Limited foraging – litter area is a scratch mat with feed dispensed onto it (some producers do not use this feature due to management issues)
– A nest box is provided but there is no nesting material so birds cannot nest build
– Birds are still kept on wire floors, which can lead to bumblefoot
– There is less weight-bearing exercise than in non-cage systems
– There is competition for resources, particularly feeder space
Despite these concerns, enriched systems are a great alternative for egg farmers as they allow for smaller groups that are easier to inspect. This makes is easier to identify unhealthy birds. These systems also provide secluded nesting areas and perches and generally show very low mortality.
In non-cage systems (free-run, aviary, free-range), there can be a number of issues as well. Some of these include:
– These are generally large flocks, thus birds are unable to recognize flock mates
– Frequent interactions with strange birds leading to aggression
– Inspection of individual birds is difficult
– Litter is unrewarding with respect to pecking behaviour (usually made up of wood shavings and droppings)
– Freedom of movement and structures within the system (e.g. perches) may cause keel bone damage through flapping/flying behaviours
– If given access to the outdoors:
– A static house cannot move around to fresh pasture; ground gets worn
– Birds need shelter (trees, man-made) to encourage ranging
– There is competition for resources (favoured nest boxes or other areas can cause piling and smothering)
However, these systems can be very positive for the birds because they allow for freedom of behaviour, including the ability to perch, fly, wing flap, forage, dust bathe, and nest.
Depopulation of an average laying barn occurs after one year of egg production. This is due to reduced egg quality and declining egg numbers as the birds age. Some farms choose to humanely euthanize the birds and compost them on-farm. Others choose to transport the birds for slaughter. This can be a major welfare concern for birds at end-of-lay. Laying hens tend to have a weakened skeleton and the chance of injury during transport can be high. Bone fractures have been found to be higher in birds removed from conventional cages, typically in the wings. However, half the birds in free-run systems had bone fractures at some point during their lives as well, most commonly in the keel bone. These birds are fragile. Researchers continue to work on bone density and strength to find a better strain of bird or better management or feeding systems.
Housing methods can change rapidly based on scientific evidence and, unfortunately, fads to please consumer demand. It is important to remember that every system has its drawbacks. We need to endeavor to do better for the birds’ sake while still maintaining production. The bottom line is that any system can perform for a farmer but must be managed well.
By Dr. Joao H.C. Costa
Why group housing? Housing of milk-fed calves in pairs or groups is rapidly increasing in popularity on Canadian dairy farms. Two key reasons behind this change are the use of automatic feeders to deliver milk and grain, and the potential of reducing labour requirements per head. Many studies support the practice of keeping calves in groups from birth. For example, calves can perform social behaviours and are better able to adapt to changes in their environment, such as regrouping or new foods. Research has also shown that socially housed calves are “smarter” in cognitively challenging tasks, especially when having to re-learn a known task.
Learning from others.
Calves raised in pairs or in groups learn how to eat solid feed sooner and have increased solid feed intakes before weaning; this benefit is especially clear when calves are fed higher volumes of milk. Grouped calves have the advantage of ‘social learning’– they can learn from their pen-mates where to find and how to eat solid feed. Socially housed calves also show a reduced response to weaning and improved performance when mixed with other calves after weaning. Housing young calves with an older, weaned companion can further stimulate feeding behaviour and growth before and after weaning.
Drink more milk.
Raising calves successfully in groups requires a different set of management practices compared to individual housing. One of the most important is that socially housed calves should have access to higher milk allowances of milk, fed via a teat; this allows calves to express their natural sucking behaviour and reduces the risk that calves will show abnormal cross-sucking on one another. Calves of course benefit in many ways from these higher milk rations, including higher growth, better health and higher milk production, particularly at first lactation.
“When it comes to group size, bigger is not better”
When it comes to group size, bigger is not better. Keeping large groups of calves together is associated with risks, including disease transmission. Groups of less than 8 calves are easiest to manage successfully, and whenever possible an ‘all-in-all-out’ system should be used to minimize the spread of disease between groups. This form of management helps to prevent the spread of infections between groups of animals raised in the same unit by allowing for cleaning and disinfection. Clean milk feeding equipment and bedding are also essential, as is the early identification and treatment of sick animals.
Test it out.
For producers that are currently using individual pens or hutches for their calves, we recommend starting by forming pairs of calves that are most similar in age. For some farms, a simple solution is to remove the partitions between individual enclosures. This requires no new equipment and can easily be adopted on many farms. If pairs work well, producers can easily expand the groups to 3’s or 4’s, again keeping the age range to a minimum.
For more about this study, e-mail Joao H C Costa (email@example.com), Marina von Keyserlingk (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Dan Weary (email@example.com).
The study is published in the Journal of Dairy Science and can be found at the following link: http://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022-0302(16)00140-5/abstract
Citation: Costa, J. H. C., M. A. G. von Keyserlingk, and D. M. Weary. “Invited review: Effects of group housing of dairy calves on behavior, cognition, performance, and health.” Journal of dairy science 99.4 (2016): 2453-2467.
By Victoria Kyeiwaa, Prairie Swine Centre
Research on different enrichment materials for pigs has shown that giving appropriate enrichments to growing pigs can result in reduced aggression, reduced fear, improved growth and fewer behavioural vices such as tail-biting. Some commonly used enrichment materials are straw, chains, wood, rope, mushroom compost, wood shavings, garden hose, peat moss and rubber balls.
Although European research has identified straw and other malleable and consumable materials as being optimal, there has been a reluctance to provide such materials in North America.
“Straw has been effective in grower-finisher pigs but there is an increased risk to biosecurity,” says Dr. Jennifer Brown, an ethology research scientist at PSC who is Kyeiwaa’s supervisor. “In this study, we included straw as a comparison treatment to the other enrichments. Small amounts of high fibre materials such as chopped or pelletized straw can be provided in a rack or hopper, for example, and will increase satiety (feeding satisfaction) in sows as well as providing enrichment.”
The sows in the study were offered three options for enrichment materials: rope, small amounts of straw, and wood on chains. A control group received no enrichment materials. Because pigs are social animals in a social environment, subordinate animals may be bullied and driven away from available resources by dominant animals. Thus, the study also investigated the influence of social status on the animals’ use of enrichment materials.
By observing the behaviour of both dominant and subordinate sows, the researchers determined if all sows, irrespective of social status, benefitted from enrichment use. Another common problem with enrichments is that animals lose interest in them over time. Kyeiwaa and the research team also determined whether it is beneficial to provide the same enrichments or if regularly rotating them increases their interest and value to the sows.
“Enrichment can help reduce aggression and stress and improve physiological function
for all ages of animals”
Initial results of this study have shown that sows spend more time in the enrichment area in the mornings after feeding. Both dominant and subordinate sows spent equal amounts of time present in the enrichment area but more dominant sows were observed contacting the enrichments. Sows in the Constant treatment interacted less with enrichments than in the Rotation or Stimulus treatments. This means that sows are more likely to lose interest when the same object is left in the pen continuously. Subordinate sows of parity 1 and 2 were more likely to be victims of aggression, with more lesions observed in this study. Although Dominant sows showed some evidence of greater contact with enrichments, Subordinate sows were also contacting and spent more time lying near the enrichments. There was little evidence of aggression observed and any aggression observed was mostly on day 1 after the enrichments were provided.
“Enrichment can help reduce aggression and stress and improve physiological function for all ages of animals,” says Brown. “Clearly there is a benefit to the industry, and providing enrichment will also help to address consumer concerns about barren conditions in pig housing. Once producers get comfortable with the concept of enrichment, I’m sure we will see them taking the lead on this and coming up with some great ideas.”
Dr. Elda Dervishi, University of Alberta
As we face the increasing size of the human population, it is projected that meat consumption will increase as well. At the same time, consumers are more aware and have increased their interest in traits related to animal welfare and health. By far, most pigs are finishers, kept in groups from 10 to, possibly, 400 or more. In these groups social skills of animals help to reduce stress. Too often we only observe from the negative side: traits like tail biting, aggressive behaviours resulting from stress, aggressive social interactions with other pigs and with humans.Behavioural traits have the potential to change the efficiency of pork production in the future, while at the same time improving welfare and reducing medication. Therefore, they are becoming economically important traits in breeding programs.
Pigs are social animals and they like to socialize and interact among themselves and with humans. They are frequently kept in larger groups, resulting in greater social interactions between individuals.Social interactions between pigs can be approached from heritable traits which are commonly referred as indirect genetic effects (IGE). This means that a pig can influence the trait value of a pen mate genetically, therefore offering the possibility to include IGE in the breeding programs and select pigs with better performance. Research has shown that pigs with better performance and product quality are also more social animals. Therefore, selection for social qualities may result in improved product quality.
Initial efforts in understanding pig behaviour started in 2009 at Wageningen University, Netherlands, with the project ‘Seeking Sociable Swine.’ The goal of this project was to improve social interactions among pigs by including social genetic effects in the breeding program and to explore the implications of this new method of selection for pig behaviour and well-being. The preliminary results of the project indicated the need to further investigate the genetics and physiology underlying such behavior.
Keeping pigs in groups allows the animals to socialize and interact.Very often, even with proper housing and management, these interactions are associated with negative behaviour such as tail biting, which is a major welfare problem for “victim” pigs and is also an indication of decreased welfare in the pigs performing it since this often indicates that there is something wrong with the system. Tail bitten pigs often have health problems and may have abscesses at slaughter with subsequent carcass condemnation. In addition to poor health, tail-bitten pigs can lose their appetite or eat less to avoid exposing their tail to further biting. Energy is used for fighting disease and not growth. Therefore, being able to select “social pigs” will largely help improve animal welfare, pig productivity and profitability by increasing consumer acceptance and satisfaction. In addition, economic losses due to carcass condemnation will be reduced.
“…being able to select “social pigs” will largely help improve animal welfare, pig productivity and profitability by increasing consumer acceptance and satisfaction”
It is important to investigate and understand the biology and physiology of malbehaviour. The major focus of our research at the University of Alberta will be to discover new markers/indicators for selecting social pigs by combining genomic and metabolic approaches. We are trying to understand the physiological basis of aggressive behaviour and its relationship with the newly important traits related to welfare in pigs. To address this issue we will measure behavioural traits in selected pigs for 6 months from birth to slaughter. In addition, blood samples will be collected at the same time during phenotyping. In this process, our partner Topigs Norsvin will provide the data (phenotypes, genotypes, and blood samples).
The next step will be metabolomics analyses which will be performed here at the University of Alberta. The advantage of this approach is that it offers the possibility to analyze over 100 metabolites for each animal. This approach will help to map biological processes associated with different behavioural traits such as tail biting, aggressiveness and social interaction. The next step, if successful, will be the identification of genetic and metabolomic markers that will be used to develop test kits. These kits will especially benefit the industry partner in their effort to develop innovative approaches to identify and select social animals for modern pork production.
Dr. Elda Dervishi finished her Ph.D studies at the University of Zaragoza, Spain. In 2011 she joined the University of Alberta as a postdoctoral fellow working on biomarkers of disease in dairy cows.She also worked for over a year at Alberta Pig Company. Her research aims to discover genomic and metabolic biomarkers of aggressive behaviour such as tail biting in pigs. This research is supported by funding from the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA). Dr. Dervishi is supported by a Mitacs Accelerate award with Topigs Norsvin.
Dr. Melissa Moggy, Alberta Farm Animal Care
The decision to euthanise on farm is a difficult decision every producer has to make. Euthanising on farm may be necessary when a sick or injured animal is unresponsive to treatment, has a poor chance of recovery, and is unfit for transportation. When not performed correctly, on-farm euthanasia can cause unwanted pain and suffering.
Gunshot is one of the most common methods of euthanasia producers perform for production species.Benefits of this method are that it is suitable for all ages (given that the appropriate firearm is used), if properly performed it results in immediate unconsciousness, cost is relatively low, and it does not require the producer to get too close to the animal. This is likely not the most appropriate method for poultry, however. Regardless of the method used, producers must take safety measures for themselves and bystanders. Refer to your species-specific “Code of Practice” for more information on proper placement and appropriate methods of euthanasia (www.nfacc.ca).
After your chosen method of euthanasia has been performed, death will typically take a few minutes. To avoid unwanted pain and suffering, it is important to check if the animal is insensible to pain. To check for insensibility, touch the eyeball (not the eyelid) and see if the animal blinks – this is known as the corneal reflex. An insensible animal will not blink. If the animal does blink, you will need to perform a secondary method of euthanasia, often another gunshot.
“Keep your personal safety in mind!”
Keep your personal safety in mind! Animals will often flail for a few seconds after your chosen method is performed. Wait for this to stop before approaching the animal. Approach the animal from the back. Do not place yourself between the legs. If the animal is still conscious, it can kick out.
Once you have confirmed that the animal is insensible, you will need to monitor the animal until confirmed dead (this may take several minutes). To confirm death, check for a lack of heartbeat and breathing. To check for a heartbeat, place your hand (or a stethoscope if you have one) on the lower left chest. To check for breathing, watch the chest for any movement (this is an easier measurement in poultry). The heartbeat and breathing can often be slow and erratic at this time, so take the time to ensure that they have stopped.
If you are uncomfortable with your ability to euthanise your animals, work with your veterinarian.Your veterinarian can explain the appropriate methods for your operation.Your veterinarian can also work with you to make an on-farm euthanasia plan. Having a clear outline of action for your operation will make the process easier for you, your employees, and your animals.
K.Schwartzkopf-Genswein, D. Melendez, E. Janzen, E.Pajor and S. Marti Producers typically castrate their bull calves anywhere between 1 week and 5 months of age and less commonly between 6 to […]