Use and Perceptions of On-Farm Emergency Slaughter for Dairy Cows in British Columbia
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).