There are four issues the dairy industry faces with regard to animal welfare, says Tom Fuhrmann, DVM, owner of DairyWorks, a management-consulting firm in Arizona.

The first is debilitated animals. This is an extremely small percentage of all dairy animals (that are culled from) in our national dairy herd, but a segment that is a potential black spot, notes Fuhrmann. These animals are “non-voluntary culls” that arise from calving problems or chronically afflicted animals. Every dairy has some of these culls and needs a) to reduce their numbers or b) find ways to dispose of those that can’t be culled without concern for these animals entering the food chain.

The second is the incidence of antibiotic residues in meat. The incidence of antibiotic residues in meat is extremely low, .0001%. “Having said that, 90% of residues that do occur come from cull dairy cows. While dairy cows represent only 7.7% of all slaughter carcasses, they represent 67% of all tissue residues,” notes Furhmann. “While this is an issue, the dairy industry is competent to handle it and there is a need to refocus the dairymen on the issue of residues in meat.”

The third and fourth are injection site blemishes and lameness and joint issues. “They continue to be issues, but the good news is that audits indicate that these two issues are on the decline,” says Furhmann.

As practitioner’s what can and should we do to have an impact on these issues, Fuhrmann asked audience members at the American Association of Bovine Practitioners meeting. “What role should we play, in terms of having influence on helping resolve the potential problem these issues create?”

There are three different roles that veterinarians can take moving forward to resolve these four issues:

  • Continue the traditional veterinary service provider
  • Take the role of a trainer
  • Serve the role of an on-farm consultant

“If we continue to serve dairymen in the traditional veterinarian role, I believe we will have virtually no impact on the problem of animal welfare on dairies,” he says.

Furhmann explains, “As a practitioner I don’t see many of us getting out on dairies and treating sick cows. Rather what I see is most of us going to dairy farms and being heavily involved in reproductive programs, palpating or using ultrasounds, doing an excellent job performing surgery on cows with displaced abomasums, responding to the occasional emergency and vaccinating cattle. We are not called out at a high frequency to treat that sick animal to prevent the chronic development of the cow that is ultimately going to go to beef. I suspect an awful lot of on-farm people are treating sick cows.”

This is where the role of a trainer or teacher can be beneficial. “In the role of a teacher we can influence on-farm employees to do the right job, do a physical exam, arrive at a diagnosis and apply treatment protocols properly.”

For example lameness is not a diagnosis it is a symptom. Lameness can come from foot rot, hairy warts, sole abscess, injury, foot overgrowth or laminitis. “If we can teach a herdsman to pick up a cows foot, diagnose which of the five causes of lameness is the right diagnosis and treat the cow accordingly, we can have an impact.”

Training does not have to be complicated, reminds Fuhrmann. He refers to an old Japanese proverb “If I hear it, I’m likely to forget. If I see it, I’ll probably remember. If I do it, I actually understand it.”

When training employees there is the hurdle of communicating with Hispanic employees. “I don’t know how you are going to jump the gap. But there are so many Hispanic workers on dairies, making cow side decision you have to bridge the communication gap – you can’t ignore it.”

To impact animal welfare veterinarians can also assume the role of an on-farm consultant. “You know your clients better than anyone else and can fulfill this role better than anyone else. But it requires a huge shift in your thinking process,” notes Furhmann.

The move into the role of the consultant uses all the expertise and experience you have, says Furhmann. “In this role you can help dairymen make decisions and provide recommendations to prevent problems.”

Veterinarians will have very little impact on the issue of animal welfare if we continue in the traditional veterinary service role. But there is potential to make a huge impact if we want to become trainers and the local consultants that we can be, explains Fuhrmann.