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Ethics and the ‘timorous’ vets

Richard Gard reports from the 2016 congress of the British Cattle Veterinary Association.

at the BCVA
congress with veterinary surgeons
being directed to consider how they
approach clients.

Comments arising from research indicate that “vets talk
too much”, “vets need
to better understand
what really motivates an
individual farmer”, “vets
should not tell farmers
what to do”, “the role of
the vet in future will be as
an on-farm coach”.

As usual at this congress, there
were parallel streams and it was not
possible to attend more than a few
presentations. The speakers give their
own views and it is up to each delegate
to sift and sort for take-home messages.

In consideration of clinical
outcomes, there was an impassioned
view that vets are over-regulated and it
is making vets “more timorous” with
on-farm clinical judgements.

The BCVA president, Neil Blake,
opened the congress and welcomed
Professor Temple Grandin from
Colorado State University who
presented a practical approach to
optimising cattle welfare.

Considerable emphasis was placed on
everyone involved with farmed animals
becoming a better observer. Animals
should be given time to investigate
distractions such as shadows, a coat on
a fence and parked vehicles near the
handling area. Heifers need to have
time to familiarise themselves with new
facilities and first impressions are very

Memories are specific, he said, and
a coloured coat is not the same as a
tarpaulin. Animals are inquisitive and
voluntarily approach new things but
become stressed if novel items are
suddenly introduced.

Small movements are required
around animals with no yelling or
screaming – and don’t stand within the flight zone. Studies have shown that
agitated animals gain less weight and
forcing animals increases cortisol levels.
Voluntary co-operation from a group is
the aim.

In evaluating animal welfare, it
is relevant to manage what can be
measured, said Prof. Grandin. An
objective scoring numerical system means that standards are not subject to
different interpretation by individuals.
Terms like “properly”, “adequate” and
“sufficient” should be banned from the
animal welfare vocabulary!

Facility designs and management should measure
outcomes, e.g. falling
animals, running,
vocalisation and
frequency of use of an
electric prod, that are
directly observable and
not a paperwork audit.

Welfare is often
compromised by broken equipment.
Animals do not easily show pain and discomfort when being watched, related
to not telling a predator that they are
hurting. Cameras reveal animal distress
more accurately.

Utilising pictures, Prof. Grandin
emphasised many points and answered
questions from the delegates. If there
is more than one handling facility on a
farm, make the race turn the same way.
Facilities should be level, not uphill
or downhill. Tongue rolling could be
genetically based or due to a lack of
roughage. Total mixed rations are eaten
too quickly whereas cattle in the wild
would graze all day.

Urine drinking is abnormal behaviour
and could be linked to a lack of
roughage but is learned behaviour and
difficult to stop. Remove the animal
from the group so that others are not
trained in the behaviour. In a crush, if
the animal is paddling and clawing at
the sides, it is likely that the sides are
not straight down. A V shape makes it
less easy for the animal to stand in the
crush. Excessive pressure from neck
restraint in a crush or stun box leads to

In summary, Prof. Grandin considers
that good stock handling needs
more respect as it is a skilled job.
(Further information and a listing of
publications and books are available at

Welfare assessment

Professor David Main from the
University of Bristol discussed the
impact on the dairy industry from
welfare assessment in farm assurance
schemes. One of the considerations
is the role of the assessor in driving

The Red Tractor assessors are using
a scoring system which is intended to
actively promote best practice but not
offering specific farm solutions.

The observations about the future
approach for veterinary surgeons to
promote changing practices on-farm
have arisen from studies that also
involve motivational interviewing.
Farmer action groups, with a host
farm, have been shown to assist in change of antibiotic use through
medicine audits.

Engaging farmers in
research has led from group discussions
and group involvement. Good life
opportunities are a way forward, with
ways of measuring good practice
leading to greater farmer and veterinary
satisfaction. Positive animal welfare
arises from good life discussions.

He suggested that veterinary
surgeons could adopt “sophisticated
communication skills” in promoting
best welfare practice among clients.
Bristol university is developing
understanding and training to accelerate
animal welfare achievements.

Ethics of welfare

An emotive discussion was led by Jules
Dare, Mark Howells and Pete Cargill in
consideration of the ethics of welfare
versus the SPC (summary of product

The question was raised as to whether
the vet on the farm with an animal
to be treated could rely on an SPC to
give sufficient guidance. There was
somewhat of an age difference in that
the more recently qualified felt that the
SPC could be relied upon whereas older
heads indicated that the SPC needed
interpretation within the context of the
clinical situation.

The comment about timorous
vets arose from situations with new
graduates being reluctant to make
their own judgement. There was a
conclusion: “As long as food safety isn’t
an issue, we should be pragmatic and
logical and be prepared to justify our
actions and defend them.” There seems
to be little substitute for experience.

‘Send a cow’ support

Throughout the coming year – its 50th
– the BCVA will be raising support
and funding for the Send a Cow
( organisation.
Richie Alford and Becky Moorcroft
were present throughout the congress
and discussed current projects and
developments with individuals as well as
presenting to a full lecture room.

Graham Duncanson is part way
through his 8,000-mile fund-raising
cycle ride and is being assisted by
communities involved with Send a
Cow as he crosses Africa. He would
welcome some company and offers
of accommodation ( A ride through
Rwanda from 3rd to 11th June 2017 is
being arranged and anyone interested
in participating should contact

Richie Alford explained that after the
civil war in Uganda in 1988, farmers in
the UK donated heifers and over the
next eight years 300 in-calf heifers were
sent. However, much has been learnt
and Send a Cow is no longer a UK livestock placement programme.
The effort now is to strengthen the way that families work together,
involving rural women and adapting
local situations for land use and
building businesses.

East Africa produces more milk
than New Zealand, with the milk
being available at a local level and low
individual cow production.

Three-year training programmes see
income grow from $234 to $1,000 per
year. One cow provides 3,000 litres per
annum which provides milk for the
family, income from the sale of the
surplus, and manure to improve crop

Some 300,000 individuals are being
helped and the aim is to achieve one
million by 2020.

It has taken 25 years to develop an
effective programme. Red breeds are
more successful than black and whites
with greater heat tolerance, better
fertility and better feed conversion.
Data have been collected on cross-bred cow yields within different local
farming systems and it is important to fit the cow to the farm.

Some farmers are being trained
as “peer farmers” to go out to and
help others. This pass-on principle
helps build thriving communities and
enables the organisation to work cost-effectively. In 2015, total charitable
expenditure increased to £5.4 million.
Details of initiatives in Rwanda,
Ethiopia, Uganda, Lesotho, Kenya and
Zambia are within the annual review
available from the charity.

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