The American Veterinary Medical Association defines an animal to be in a good state of welfare (as indicated by scientific evidence) when it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behavior, and not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. On-farm welfare hinges upon a valid veterinary-client-patient-relationship (VCPR). The VCPR provides for a current herd health plan, treatment protocols, management protocols for painful procedures and conditions and special needs cattle, and appropriate euthanasia guidelines and training for designated and assigned personnel.
Savvy beef producers assemble a welfare team to develop their cattle care plan. As purveyor of the most current knowledge of disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, the farm’s veterinarian should lead this team. It’s all about the relationship: the ‘R’ determines the VCPR validity. Do your cattle have access to a veterinarian who: knows them, their owner, and their facility; has assumed the responsibility for their health care; has experience with local issues that may impact them; develops disease prevention protocols and a treatment protocol book specific to their needs as well as helping make considerate end-of-life decisions; and is available for follow-up care? Do your cattle have an owner willing to follow the veterinarian’s recommendations? Are their owner and veterinarian immersed in beef quality, understanding that each animal carries the reputation of the farm and the beef industry?
Producers discussing each other’s veterinary advice is not a VCPR. A producer discussing vaccination protocols with the veterinarian as they perform a caesarian section during a middle-of-the-night snow storm does not constitute a valid VCPR, especially if this is the first and last time the veterinarian visits the farm this year. Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines indicate signed treatment protocol books are reviewed every ninety days (including monitoring drug inventory and labeling) and the herd health plan every six months. Veterinary farm visits appropriate to the health care issues evolving during the year are needed in order to keep these plans and books current. Previous documents are reviewed to track compliance and outcomes, indicating future or alternative plans.
Veterinary oversight is required by law for prescription drug use, extra label drug use, and veterinary feed directives. Beef producers have a legal and ethical duty to handle animal health products judiciously. Antibiotic use is especially under scrutiny. This is a food safety issue. Drug residues in our beef products are simply not acceptable. We risk losing drug availability and consumer confidence of our ability to treat our cattle every time we use drugs in an inappropriate manner. Having a solid veterinary relationship is the key to appropriate drug usage.
Assess your resources with your veterinarian as you develop your cattle care plan. Review risk areas on your farm to determine how to overcome or mitigate potential risks as well as to develop contingency plans. Potential risk areas are associated with veterinary care and herd health management programs; health conditions around calving, grouping, and animal movement; lameness; respiratory disease; parasite management; calf management; and management of sick, injured, and cull animals. Extreme weather conditions pose risks to our animal care plans. Employees (their training and supervision and the time they have devoted to their tasks) also factor in as risks to your animal care plans.
Producers have educational resources for developing cattle care plans. BQA Certification is offered by UW-Extension. Animal Care Training (ACT), www.animalcaretraining.org, serves as an online training site for beef, dairy, equine, transportation, and livestock marketers. Web-based audiovisual training modules in English and Spanish featuring topics such as animal husbandry, animal welfare, environmental stewardship, and food safety practices are located on this site. The Wisconsin Beef Information Center, http://fyi.uwex.edu/wbic/ is another valuable resource for producers. Discuss information from these sources with your veterinarian. Together you can develop a valid cattle care plan for your farm.