Given that Irish farmers currently have a “good” reputation in terms of animal welfare, it is “important now more than ever” that we retain this status, farmers were told earlier this week.
At Teagasc’s dairy conference, Dr Emer Kennedy, researcher, told attendees that calf welfare is an emotive issue that is at the forefront internationally.
She outlined that consumers are becoming “more interested” in animal welfare, particularly living conditions.
She added that consumers are requesting more information on farming practices and are expressing heightened concerns towards animal welfare with increased scale.
Therefore, we need to ensure high standards of farm animal welfare, particuarly calf welfare; she told attendees.
During her presentation on a paper on management and housing guidelines to achieve excellent calf welfare, which she co-authored with Alison Sinnott, Dr Kennedy shared results from a survey that they conducted on how farmers rate themselves in terms of calf welfare.
The Teagasc Moorepark study involved 51 farms in Munster, with an average herd size of 254 cows, with numbers ranging from 87 to 550 head.
96% of participants were spring-calving, with a calving season varying in length from 8 to 14.5 weeks.
The study showed that over 80% of farmers rate calf welfare on their farm as very or extremely good.
Almost 85% of farmers rated their calf husbandry skills as very or extremely good, but Dr Kennedy stressed that there is “always room to improve”.
She outlined that one of the big indicators in terms of welfare is calf mortality, and again, Ireland “fairs quite well” at less than 5%, which is shy of its target of less than 4%, which is Norway’s current rate.
Germany and the US stand at circa 8%, while the Netherlands has a rate of 7.5%, and the UK sits at 6% (dairy calves).
During her presentation, she outlined that excellent calf welfare arises from good nutrition (Calf 1-6 rule), excellent husbandry skills, a high health status and appropriate housing. We will discuss this in more detail in a separate article.
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