Improve herd health by focusing on key ‘outcome measures’

THE importance of looking at ‘outcome measures’ as a way of assessing the health and wellbeing of animals should not be underestimated.

This is the advice from Johanna Buitelaar Warden, head of animal welfare at AB Sustain, which provides food and agriculture sustainability solutions.

She says traditionally, farm assurance assessments involve looking at input measures such as feed quality and cubicle size. However she believes this method of assessing animal health is being turned on its head.

“Input measurements can come out looking perfect on paper but, in reality, there could be some underlying problems on the farm or at the abattoir,” she says.

“Outcome measures involve starting at the other end of the chain i.e. looking at animal behaviour to identify and assess where the root causes of illness and discomfort are.”

For example, she says, by looking at the incidence of on-farm issues such as pneumonia, lameness and mastitis, problems can be pinpointed and resolved precisely.

“If cows are standing up in their cubicles, it may be because they are not comfortable lying down. A traditional input measure, i.e. looking at the size of the cubicle or the bedding material, potentially would not show there is a problem - the only thing which will identify if there is an issue is assessing if cows are standing up or lying down, and then working backwards to find out where the problem may be.

“In an abattoir, the outcome measures we would look at include vocalisation in animals pre-slaughter, or how often they slip, fall or bunch up in a certain area - in essence, identifying any area where there is a recurring problem, but where the problem may not be evident immediately to us as humans.”

She says this ability to get to the heart of a problem will focus attention on what really matters in terms of animal health.

Outlay

“Measuring outcomes can bring with it potential to save costs, while in some cases there may be an initial outlay required to bring the systems involved up to scratch -

although this can often be quite small, simply removing a shadow on an abattoir floor so the animals don’t stop and need to be goaded on - potentially these changes may mean reducing the amount of staff needed to deal with animals in the long-term.”

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