Animal welfare in Argentina

Animal welfare is a much-discussed subject in Argentina, as the country is currently going through a transition from a pasture-based production to a more intensive system with confinement, either in free-stalls on concrete floors, or in dry lots. This intensification leads to an increase in productivity but also to increased problems in animal health, mainly mastitis and hoof problems.

Dr. Xavier Manteca, professor at the University of Barcelona and member of the Animal Welfare commission of the European Union was invited to talk about the importance of animal welfare from a productivity and economical point of view at Mercoláctea, the most important dairy event in South America, which took place in May.

Manteca said that during the last five years the view on animal welfare and the importance of better practices has changed dramatically in Argentina. He emphasized the economical opportunities in improving the comfort of the cows, and suggested a pragmatic and objective approach, using protocols and following the advice from available research. He said that it is better to lead this work as dairy farmers, rather than being forced to change by others at a later stage.

“Remember,” he said, “that in a competitive market, animal welfare is not a luxury, but a necessity.”

According to Manteca animal welfare is a combination of management, physiology and animal behavior. This combination lets us identify critical points, many of which are very easy to improve, requiring very little investment. The cow production will improve and this in turn will improve the farm’s efficiency.

We should not be afraid when we invest in cow comfort; but look at the economical gains involved.

“The main animal welfare challenges for Argentina I think depend on what phase the farm is in, in the transition towards more intensive production, but the three aspects that I find most critical are: heat stress, floor and ground conditions and calf mortality.”

As something that could easily be improved with little or no investment required were water availability and sufficient space at feeding tables. Water is very important, especially in the warm months. Things that are often overlooked are the cleanliness of the water troughs and the temperature of the water. This can be easily solved by covering the water troughs to give shade.

There should be enough space at the feeding tables, so that the low rank cows also get the opportunity to eat. Recommended space per cow is between 60 and 75 centimeters.

Another very simple thing that can be achieved through small management changes is to not stress the cows when they are walking to avoid hoof problems. Those are just a few examples of things that can be easily improved and that will have a good impact on the welfare of the cows.

Improvements of animal welfare that requires a higher investment are heat stress abatement and flooring conditions.

To avoid heat stress we need to stimulate water intake, provide shade, ventilation and reduce other types of stress. The consequences of heat stress are a decrease in dry matter intake, and increase in maintenance energy requirements. The heat stress can lead to a decrease in production of up to two litres per cow per day. For a herd of 500 cows this means a lot less milk during the hot summer months. There are also other risks involved with heat stress, like reproduction problems.

Click here to read about Raúl Martinich, dairy farmer in Argentina who have followed these recommendations and advice>

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Monica Wadsworth

Monica Wadsworth
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Writer at Milkproduction.com

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