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Manage the welfare of all cattle

Dan Hickey April 22, 2020
Heard Health & Welfare

Guidelines for managing the welfare of your cattle herd.

Animal welfare management is a critical component of whole farm management. You should review all factors that affect cattle welfare and well-being. Tool 6.5 provides a checklist of important factors potentially affecting cattle welfare on-farm.

Check all health, nutrition, climatic and management factors that can affect cattle welfare

  • Monitor cattle condition scores to achieve production targets while ensuring physical welfare.
  • Apply management practices and techniques to prevent diseases.
  • Use appropriate and efficient stock handling methods and well-designed facilities that exploit natural livestock behaviour.
  • Audit all factors that could affect cattle welfare.

Producers have a duty of care to their livestock.

Meet nutrition targets for all cattle classes

Ensure stock maintain recommended condition score targets or weights for their class. Generally, cattle should be maintained at condition score 2.5 or above to achieve satisfactory reproductive performance and welfare requirements (see Module 5: Weaner throughput).

Keep animals free from important diseases

Basic animal welfare standards include freedom from disease. All diseases need prompt diagnosis and treatment. As a guide, aim to keep mortality rates for all classes of cattle below 2%.

Major diseases, including gastrointestinal parasites, bloat or grass tetany, can be well controlled with an integrated approach to management (see Procedure 2 and the tools in this module for further information.

Follow national and state codes of practice

Under the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy (AAWS), Animal Health Australia (AHA) was commissioned to facilitate the development of nationally consistent standards and guidelines for livestock, the Australian National Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines.

Some states have different requirements in relation to keeping livestock. Contact your state department of primary industry and agriculture for further information.

It is important that you are aware of the various codes of practice, guidelines and requirements set down nationally and state-by-state, and that you adhere to them.

Follow all relevant codes of practice to ensure all important animal welfare standards are being met.

Follow guidelines for the transport of cattle

When transporting livestock, it is essential that they are managed in a way that reduces stress and minimises any risks to animal welfare.

It is also important that producers understand their roles and responsibilities, as well as any standards and guidelines when transporting livestock.

Cattle should always be transported in accordance with the guidelines outlined in the codes of practice for transport and the Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for the Land Transport of Livestock.

Information on transporting livestock is available on the MLA website and in Is It Fit to Load? (2012) published by MLA.

Undertake routine husbandry procedures correctly

While routine husbandry procedures are conducted on all stock, some important aspects need to be considered.

  • Plan husbandry procedures to minimise stock handling and maximise disease control. Aim to minimise handling to reduce livestock stress. Where possible, combine procedures so cattle are handled less frequently.
  • Ensure the correct technique for invasive husbandry procedures that cause pain (eg castration, dehorning), including adherence to ‘correct age’ guidelines and hygiene requirements.
  • Undertake uncommon procedures, such as tail docking, only where there are welfare benefits for the animal or when prescribed by a veterinarian. Some procedures are prohibited in some states. These procedures should only be undertaken in accordance with the relevant codes of practice.
  • Ensure people handling livestock are skilled and competent. If the necessary skills are not available through on-farm labour, consider using accredited contractors (eg members of the Livestock Contractors Association). It is important that animal handlers can provide a level of technical competence to meet health and welfare standards.

Manage breeding heifers to minimise dystocia

While some neonatal calf losses are likely, they can be significantly reduced through good management practices. Good heifer management, including management of nutrition to ensure heifers are well grown but not too fat, is very important (see Module 5: Weaner throughput). In addition, a tight mating period will assist with calving management. Careful use of genetics in selection of bulls and heifers is critical to minimise dystocia (see Module 4: Cattle genetics).

Develop a disaster management plan

Implement a disaster management plan when cattle come under increased stress from naturally occurring events, such as drought or flood.

This package does not contain detailed drought feeding information; however, extensive and detailed assistance is available from state departments of primary industries and agriculture, and private consultants. Various decision support tools and training, such as StockPlan®, enable producers to explore options during a drought, and to make informative and timely decisions before the onset of drought.

Issues that should be considered in a disaster management plan include:

  • What feed and water options do I have for the livestock?
  • How much will it cost to feed or water my stock for a specified time?
  • Do I feed, sell or agist my stock, or do a combination of all strategies, to manage the impact of the event?
  • How will my decision affect my herd and financial position this year? And next year?
  • Is it better to buy or breed in the recovery phase?

Closely monitor body condition of the retained herd to ensure they do not fall below condition score 2.0–2.5, as this will adversely affect their welfare and performance. A national guide to describing and managing cattle in low body condition provides guidance on management of low body condition cattle.

The main aim should be to ensure cattle producers make management decisions that minimise adverse cattle welfare, environmental, personal and financial impacts of natural events and minimise the recovery time.

Design an effective livestock handling system

Keep cattle handling to the minimum level necessary for health management and productivity. Design handling facilities (eg yards and laneways) to minimise the risk of injury to cattle, and to take advantage of natural cattle behaviour. Cattle familiar with directions tend to move better and remain calmer if they see other animals within touching distance.

  • Design yards to ensure a smooth flow of stock.
  • Avoid shadows in yards that can cause cattle to baulk.
  • Use materials that do not make a noise and are designed to avoid potential injury to cattle.
  • Provide non-slip flooring.
  • Maintain cattle handling facilities in good working order, and complete repairs well before major husbandry practices are carried out.

Use low stress stock handling techniques

Stockmanship is a broad term that encompasses the expertise of people involved in handling stock. Cattle handling methods are very important for ease of movement, increased productivity, reduced work health and safety issues, and animal productivity. Understanding cattle behaviour is an important part of good stockmanship and improves a handler’s ability to move stock while minimising stress. Poor stockmanship can result in bruising, carcase downgrades and dark cutting meat.

Low stress stock handling techniques increase productivity and improve meat quality. Courses are available through state departments of primary industries and agriculture, as well as private training providers. Search online for ‘low stress stock handling’.

What to measure and when

  • Review all aspects of cattle welfare on-farm, including relevant codes of practices, animal husbandry procedures, disaster management plans and on-farm handling facilities on a regular basis (ie quarterly). See Tool 6.5 for a checklist you can use when reviewing these items.

Further information