Evaluating the Heifers’ Management
Heifer Management Assessment ToolDoris Pellerin, Elsa Vasseur, Anne Marie de Pasillé, Jeffrey Rushen, Agassiz Jean Durocher, Daniel Lefebvre, Gilles Fecteau
We have developed a farming practices assessment tool that targets ten key elements of calf and heifer management. The elements chosen were calving management, newborn care, painful procedure management, colostrum management, mother-calf separation, feeding and housing calves, weaning, feeding and housing heifers, and general follow-up. The targets and indicators for each of the key elements were validated by a panel of experts and weighted on the basis of the experts’ opinions and scientific literature. The tool was tested on 28 dairy farms in Quebec to determine its feasibility and the reproducibility of results between two observers. The farm assessment included an interview about farm management and measurements of the environment in the cow barn. The results and recommendations were discussed with the farmers. The usefulness of the tool was assessed by the farmers themselves. The five objectives initially set for the success of the tool were achieved: 1) keep visits to no more than 3 hours, 2) easily collect data and obtain high reproducibility rates in the qualitative variables measured, 3) help to detect problems and discuss these problems with farmers, 4) convince users of the usefulness of the tool to identify the elements of calf and heifer management that need to be improved, and 5) encourage the adoption of recommended farming practices. The results of this project show that voluntary improvements in animal welfare can be facilitated with the use of appropriate tools to help farmers adopt recommended practices.