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          Animal Care pillar: Close-up on Cattle Assessments
BC Dairy Association Staff
The Animal Care pillar has been in effect in BC since 2015. Producers exhibit high levels of commitment to meeting and exceeding program targets, and strive to incorporate updated best management practices on an ongoing basis. Over the past year, our BCDA proAction team has received producer questions related to cattle assessments. In this article, we wanted to share recent updates on criteria and offer support in interpreting your cattle assessment.
    Updates to Cattle Assessment Protocol: Continuous Improvement
Cattle assessments are bi-annual herd reports completed by Holstein Canada. From these assessments, producers receive a herd summary report, which details every animal that was scored as part of the sample, and a peer report, which benchmarks each individual herd within the herd scores across Canada. The first two rounds of cattle assessments saw a variable approach to the benchmarking zones (green, yellow and red). The zones were based on percentile, so the green zone reflected the top 25% of national scores, and the red zone the bottom 25%. Starting with the third round* of cattle assessments in April 2021, benchmarking zones will become fixed. There is now a published threshold for each zone that all herds in Canada will be assessed by. The green zone will be for herds where 90% (95% for body condition score) or more of the herd meets the acceptable score for each area assessed. Any herd with a score of less than 75% of animals meeting the acceptable criteria will be in the red zone.
*Producer note: Some herds in BC have not yet had their second-round assessments with Holstein Canada. These herds will continue to receive the original scoring criteria until their third-round assessments. Please note that new producers with cattle assessments after March 2021 will automatically be assessed using the third-round criteria.
Another change to the cattle assessment protocol for proAction is an updated requirement for implementing demonstrated improvement. 2021 will be a transition period and the requirement will apply to only certain herds with cattle assessment scores in the red zone for any of the four scoring areas (lameness, hock injuries, knee injuries, neck injuries, or body condition score).
The protocol for farms with one or more scores in the red zone will be:
• A cattle assessment in 12 months.
• More animals assessed in the next assessment (decreasing the margin of error so improvements are reflected as accurately as possible).
For the transition phase beginning September 2021, these new protocols will only apply to some farms with scores in the red zone who have cattle assessments after March 2021 with validations after September 1, 2021. In September 2023, the full requirements will come into effect for all farms with one or more scores in the red zone.
Making management changes as soon as a red zone is identified will be more important than ever. Failure to improve herd scores within three subsequent assessments will result in a non- compliance on the next validation. It is essential that producers take action on any red zone scores on their cattle assessment peer report as soon as they are identified.
How to interpret your cattle assessment
When it comes to reading and understanding your cattle assessment, the most important part is determining whether any injuries noted are one-off situations, or part of a systemic issue. While individual animals can become injured by accident in the barn, these instances shouldn’t create red flags on any specific area of the assessment. If there are many similar injuries, it’s most likely a systemic issue that can be fixed with some small upgrades and attention to detail.
For example, if neck injuries are widespread in a herd, looking at neck rail positioning, feed bunk accessibility and feed bunk barriers may seem like an obvious first step, but stall length, lunge space and lying time can also be factors. Improving these issue areas may seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be expensive or difficult. A simple addition of foam padding to the stall neck rail may be sufficient. However, it’s important to note some stalls may need to be amended; today ’s milking cow is generally larger than they were 40 years ago, so some structural changes may be needed in order to comfortably house today’s breed.
If there are a large number of hock or knee injuries in a herd, reviewing the type and depth of bedding is important, but not the only things to consider. Curb height, brisket placement, lying time and flooring type can also be significant factors. Hock and knee injuries can be challenging because in some cases, the swelling may persist past the healing of the acute injury. A veterinarian can help assess whether this is the case. In this situation, housing should be sufficiently maintained to prevent new injuries from occurring in the herd. Remember, the requirement is to show marked improvement within three years.
If lameness is an issue in a herd, the producer is likely already strategizing with their herd veterinarian and/ or hoof-trimmer. It is essential to determine the root cause of the
lameness - whether it’s infection (fungal or bacterial), or related to standing (or lying) surface, nutrition, or something other than hoof health, such as knee or hip injuries. Lame animals should be treated based on the cause of lameness and segregated in a TLC/hospital pen to rest. An open lying space, close proximity to feed and water, and limiting competition for feeding and lying space are all important factors to consider for recovery.
If body condition score is identified as an issue in a herd, the first thought for many is to contact their dairy nutritionist, but there are other elements to consider in addition to the feed ration, quality, and quantity that is offered. Stocking density can impact both feed intake and metabolism. Without adequate space to lie and ruminate, animals will not metabolize feed or produce milk at optimal levels.
Recommendations for reviewing your cattle assessment results
• Consider the differences between animal groups that might have led to different scores between those groups. Your “herd summary” provides a list of all the animals that were scored during your assessment. Are the animals with neck injuries isolated to a few specific pens? Did your heifers score higher for injuries than your milking herd? Talk to your veterinarian about methods of isolating the root causes of your issue.
• Continue conversations with your herd veterinarian, hoof trimmer, nutritionist, friends, and trusted coworkers! “Barn blindness” is possible for even the most seasoned producers. Fresh eyes are always a resource on any farm.
If ever in doubt, the proAction team is available to support you with any questions or concerns.
    For assistance and support
The BCDA proAction team is here for you. If you have questions about this pillar, or need support in preparing, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at [email protected] or 604-294-3775.
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