By Phil Holland, Federated Farmers Senior Policy Advisor
The existing codes of welfare for dairy cattle, pigs, sheep and beef cattle, and deer are in the process of being updated. This raises two questions: What are codes of welfare? And why do changes to them matter to farmers?
The answer to the first question is relatively simple. In government speak codes of welfare …. set minimum standards and also promote best practise for the care and management of animals. So far so good. This sounds sensible and as farmers we are all invested in ensuring our animals are well looked after; it is what we do, and it is at the core of who we are. We are rightfully proud of New Zealand’s record on animal welfare, and we strongly support efforts to ensure best practice is followed by all owners and managers of animals. This includes enforcement of codes of welfare and animal welfare regulation.
But here is the rub (sorry Shakespeare), the process of reviewing the codes gives an opportunity for people and groups who hold quite different views from ours on what good welfare for animals looks like to have an equal opportunity to have their say in what is in the codes. This means that as farmers we must take part in this process to make sure any changes that are made to any of the codes are sensible, practical and affordable.
To help make sure this is the case Federated Farmers has already submitted at length on the proposed changes to the Dairy Code of Welfare and submitted in support of the NZPork submission on the Pig Code of Welfare. Both submissions are available on the Federated Farmers’ website.
Most worrying in the proposed codes is the move to an ever-increasing level of detail on how to farm. As such we are concerned that the proposed codes will harm the viability of farming, will have severe economic costs, and will probably not improve animal welfare outcomes.
A prime example of this change of focus from what outcome a farmer must achieve to what they must do, is in the section on calf rearing. It’s proposed the Minimum Standard moves from two simple, outcomes-focused statements:
- To ensure their welfare newborn calves must receive sufficient colostrum or good quality commercial colostrum substitute.
- A calf must be given suitable liquid feeds until the rumen has developed sufficiently to allow it to utilize solids as the sole feed source.
To nine incredibly detailed, input-focused rules:
Minimum Standard No. 12 – Colostrum, Hand Rearing and Weaning
- All newborn calves must receive sufficient good quality (i.e., first milking/gold) colostrum or good quality commercial colostrum substitute as soon as possible after birth.
- All newborn calves removed from their dam must be offered sufficient good quality colostrum/colostrum substitute as soon as possible but within 2 hours of being removed, to ensure that any calves that have not sucked their dam receive colostrum within 24 hours after birth.
- Persons feeding newborn calves’ colostrum by tube must be trained and competent in the procedure.
- Equipment for handling, storing, and feeding colostrum/colostrum replacer and liquid feed must be kept clean to prevent bacterial contamination.
- A calf must be given suitable liquid feeds that satisfy Minimum Standard 6a, until the rumen has developed sufficiently to allow it to utilise solids as the sole feed source but must not be fully weaned off milk before 6 weeks of age.
- Calves’ need to suck must be satisfied.
- For the first 3 weeks after birth calves must be fed a suitable good quality liquid feed at a rate of no less than 20% of their body weight divided into no less than two feeds per day.
- Where there are signs that calves are not receiving sufficient milk, immediate remedial action must be taken.
- Calves must have daily access to appropriate fibrous solid feeds, such as appropriate concentrates, hay, or grass, from one week of age to support rumen development.
Time and time again in both proposed codes the suggested changes are like this: highly prescriptive and dictating what a farmer must do rather than having an outcome that will need to be met. Because of this we are concerned that the proposed codes will harm the viability of farming, will have severe economic costs, and will probably not improve animal welfare outcomes.
You can rest assured that Federated Farmers will continue to energetically advocate on farmers’ behalf to ensure all the updated codes are useful and workable documents that do not impose a heavy-handed compliance burden on our sector for little or no additional animal welfare benefit.