University of Wisconsin Extension is sponsoring a one-day seminar to explore issues relevant to the care of dairy and beef cattle.
The Wisconsin Dairy & Beef Industry Animal Husbandry Conference will be held on Friday, March 4 from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the American Legion Hall in Neilsville. This is the second year the conference has been held.
How farm animals are cared for has come under increasing scrutiny across the country. As a result, UW-Extension plans to explore this emerging issue by holding a conference and bringing in speakers to discuss farm animal care.
"Last year's conference was really focused on awareness building," says Maria Bendixen, Clark County Extension agriculture agent and conference co-planner. "This year, we're going to focus on 'What can you do on your farm?' We want participants to be able to take the information they learn from this conference home and use it."
More than 300 people attended last year's conference in Kimberly.
Bendixen asks, "How do producers really know they are taking care of their cattle? We're evaluating ourselves and asking ourselves are their things we can do to take even better care of our animals. Most people really like their animals and want to give them the best possible care."
Kurt Vogel, University of Wisconsin-River Falls animal science professor, who was just hired in January while finishing his PhD in animal science with an emphasis in livestock behavior and welfare with Dr. Temple Grandin at Colorado State University, will speak at the conference. Vogel grew up on a dairy farm between Lancaster and Fennimore in Grant County. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees from UW-Madison in animal science.
Vogel says it's not enough anymore for a producer to say "I take care of my livestock. They have to be able to prove it now because society expects it," he says.
At the daylong conference, producers will learn how well they are caring for their animals. "In dairy, some of the variables we would measure are body condition scores, lameness scores, which scores how well they walk, longevity and if there are any breeding issues," Vogel explains.
Producers can also look at milk production to assess animal welfare in their herds, but not production alone. Vogel cautions, "You can have two dairies that have similar milk production levels but the care of the animals can vary greatly.
According to Vogel, the emotional state of the animal is folded into animal welfare. How do you determine the emotional well being of a herd of cows?
"If I go into a dairy and I find that most of the cows in that herd will not approach me while I'm standing still in the barnyard or freestall alleys then there probably is a problem there," Vogel explains. "You know there are always going to be a few animals in a herd that have higher fear levels than the rest of the herd. But, most of them will approach you if they are handled well by their owners. If I see broken tails throughout the herd, this is a definite sign of abusive handling."
Vogel believes animal welfare will continue to grow as an issue for producers.
"I think it's important for anyone in the industry to realize the issue of animal welfare is not going to go away and we need to find a way to deal with it effectively, especially as we get more and more consumers who are disconnected from agriculture.
But bottom line, Vogel says, paying attention to animal welfare is the right thing to do.
"Since we are raising these livestock for our benefit, we need to make sure that we are giving them a life worth living while they are under our care," Vogel explains. "The justification for drinking milk and eating meat becomes much more acceptable when we're assured these animals have been well cared for."
"We have an excellent line up of speakers," Bendixen notes.
*Naomi Botheras, an animal welfare Extension specialist from the Department of Animal Sciences at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, will speak on "Animal Handling and Production Based Outcomes."
* Kurt Vogel's presentation will outline "How to Measure Animal Welfare on Farms."
*Trevor DeVries, with the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at University of Guelph in Ontario, will speak on "Utilizing Knowledge of Dairy Cow Behavior to Improve Cow Comfort."
Curt Pate, cattle handling guru with the National Cattlemen's Association, will give two cattle handling demonstrations at the nearby Clark County Fairgrounds. One demonstration will be on dairy cattle, the other on beef cattle. Conference participants can choose which demonstration they want to see.
There will also be a producer panel of three producers who will speak about the things they do on their farms to communicate with the public and to understand agriculture in general.
Advance registration is encouraged.
"We only have 150 tickets per handling demonstration so that's a motivating factor to sign up early," Bendixen notes.
Registration is $40 per person and includes materials and meals. Registrations are due Feb. 28. To register, visit the following Website at: http://fyi.uwex.edu/animalhusbandryconference/. Or, Send a check to Bendixen made out to UW Extension at Clark County Extension Office, Courthouse Room 104,517 Court Street, Neillsville, WI 54456. If you have questions, you can call the Clark County Extension Office at 715-743-5121.
The conference is co-sponsored by, UW-Extension Livestock Team, Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Wisconsin Farm Bureau, Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, Equity Livestock, Animart, and National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Both producers and professionals are welcome to attend. The Division of Continuing Education at the UW Veterinary School has approved six credits to all participating veterinarians.