“When it boils down to it, as one veterinarian put it at AABP, ‘Veterinarians have made our living responding to death, disease and destruction.’ We need to change that model,” Jennifer Walker said at the 2015 Western Canadian Dairy Seminar in Red Deer, Alberta.

Lee karen
Managing Editor / Progressive Dairy magazine

As a veterinarian and director of dairy stewardship for Dean Foods, a large milk processing company with 65 processing plants across the U.S., Walker addressed how veterinarians can take on a larger role when it comes to animal welfare on the farm.

“In my opinion, in order to get ahead of [animal welfare], we need to actively engage the veterinarian on the farm again,” she said.

Depending on the farm, the veterinarian and the farmer, today’s veterinarian can hold a variety of roles. On some farms, the main purpose of a veterinarian is to conduct pregnancy checks, treat animals or distribute medication.

For others, they may take on greater responsibilities and have a leading role in managing herd health, developing protocols and managing nutrition and milk quality.


“Veterinarians have greater value. We have to see that value opportunity,” Walker said.

She continued, “The reality is: So many farms value the physical services of their veterinarian more than they value their intellectual services. Now, more than ever, there is an emphasis on what we call a veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR).

We’re facing a new challenge where every farm, no matter what size, will have to demonstrate compliance with animal health and welfare standards, and with that, a valid VCPR is going to play an increasingly important role.”

While veterinarians can be instrumental in developing and writing farm protocols, Walker also suggested it become their responsibility to see that the dairy is following those protocols and, more importantly, that the protocols are actually working.

“Your veterinarian has to become your farm’s animal health and welfare management professional,” she said. “When it comes to herd health protocols – SOPs – your vet needs to be the chief compliance officer, the data manager and the link between your consultants and the auditors who are going to start coming by.”

Veterinarians are equipped with a great depth of knowledge and a thorough picture of your farm’s practices. They are not linked to selling specific products and can be a neutral deciding factor in whether or not a change on the farm is successful, regardless of what consultant recommended it.

Here are several ways Walker suggested dairy producers can begin discussions with their veterinarians to identify better herd management practices.

  • Instead of dehorning at 12 weeks old, what if you do it at 4? Then, maybe move it to 1. If you’re not using pain medication, maybe you can start with a local or an anti-inflammatory.

  • Are transition cows identified effectively? Are they treated early enough? Are those treatments working?

  • Are lame cows identified early? Are they being treated quickly? Are you following up to be sure the treatments are working? Is your hoof trimmer actually fixing problems and not creating them?

  • Are you monitoring udder health? High somatic cell counts and inflamed udders are not signs of good welfare.

  • Who is training the people on your farm to handle cows correctly? Do you go around and observe for broken tails?

  • Who is evaluating cow comfort?

  • Who is responsible for euthanasia on your farm – making sure it is done correctly and timely?

  • How do you move down cows? Who is teaching you how to move a 1,600-pound (725-kilogram) animal humanely?

  • How do we make better decisions when it comes to cull cows? “Timing is everything,” she said. Work with your veterinarian to critically look at potential cull cows regularly to make good, timely decisions about when to send cows to market and slaughter.

Start engaging in these conversations with your veterinarian and you may realize how much you have been underutilizing such a valuable farm resource by only having them stop in for pregnancy checks.  PD