Saputo Dairy Care Program highlights, 2015-2020

Thanks to investment from Saputo Inc., CCSAW and the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) launched the Saputo Dairy Care Program, an animal welfare program focused exclusively on dairy cattle welfare, in 2015.

The capstone initiative of the program is the Dairy Cattle Welfare Rotation organized and taught by Drs. Todd Duffield, Lena Levison and Derek Haley. Since November 2016, 69 students have participated in eight offerings of the rotation. The week-long elective rotation provides animal welfare education specific to dairy cattle for final year veterinary students. Rotation content covers a range of aspects of dairy cattle welfare including client communication around animal welfare issues; non-ambulatory (down) cows; cull cows; euthanasia decisions for cattle; livestock auctions; veal calf production which incorporates a visit to a local veal farm and discussion with the herd veterinarian; and general animal welfare discussion and identification of key welfare issues in the dairy industry.

Practical experiences are key to the rotation and as such, students typically visit three farms to gather animal-based measures (e.g. body condition, lameness, and injury scoring) centered on the proAction Animal Care Assessment module from Dairy Farmers of Canada. Students also visit a local livestock auction to experience the dairy industry beyond the farm gate and understand the roles veterinarians can have in welfare regulation.

An important aspect of the Dairy Cattle Welfare Rotation is to bring together thoughts and experiences from varying geographic locations. A travel stipend assists in bringing students from other veterinary colleges to Guelph. To date 28 students external to OVC have attended the rotation.  Veterinary schools represented to date include the Atlantic Veterinary College, Université de Montréal, Western College of Veterinary Medicine,  University of Calgary, Michigan State University, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Illinois.

The rotation harnesses the extensive local Dairy@Guelph expertise by inviting faculty and graduate students to present on current and emerging research. Speakers have included Drs. Stephanie Croyle, David Kelton, Megan King, David Renaud, and Charlotte Winder. Guests from other Canadian and American universities who have a focus in dairy cattle welfare research have been sponsored to attend the rotation to enrich student and faculty learning, and foster collaboration between institutions. The list of guests includes Drs. Jocelyn Dubuc (U of Montreal), Kathryn Proudfoot (U of PEI), Yanne Stokjov (UBC), Cassandra Tucker (UC Davis), and Claire Windeyer (U of Calgary). Additionally, the rotation has hosted Dr. Warren Skippon the Director of Animal Welfare for Saputo, Dr. Tommy Heffernan, a veterinary practitioner and Nuffield Scholar visiting from Ireland and Dr. Patricia Pryor, a Veterinary Behaviourist and American College of Animal Welfare Diplomate. The broad scope of guests is a truly enriching experience for all participants.

July 6-10, 2020 saw the rotation adapt to an online platform to accommodate social distancing limitations in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight OVC students participated remotely from locations across Canada. The week consisted of a mix of pre-recoded faculty lectures, videos, readings, virtual class discussions and student presentations using the platform Virtual Classroom within CourseLink.  Although the hands-on animal-based measures and facility assessments were replaced with case-based learning consisting of data sets, interview transcripts and photos, the instructors were impressed by the level of critical evaluation students were able to give to the material. The instructors feel this model where veterinarians assess collected information is very much in keeping with the ever evolving role of veterinarians as advisors on farm.

As this rotation is the first of its kind educating veterinary students on dairy cattle welfare, an effort has been made to promote the rotation on several fronts.  Dr. Levison presented a poster Teaching final-year veterinary students about dairy cattle welfare to attendees of the American Dairy Science Association Conference, Knoxville, USA (2018).  At the International Society of Applied Ethology Conference in Charlottetown, CAN (2018), Dr. Duffield spoke about the rotation to conference attendees from Canada and around the world. A video promoting the rotation was made and Hoard’s Dairyman Intel. included a short piece about the rotation in their online newsletter that has a subscriber list of 23,000 – Vet school is proactive on dairy cattle welfare (Geiger, C. 2018).

Each February the program has sponsored a one-and-a-half day Dairy Cattle Welfare Forum - a meeting to discuss ongoing projects and research results, as well as the unmet needs for future research, extension and education for the Canadian dairy industry. Originally only researchers from UBC and UofG participated. The meeting has expanded to include researchers from educational institutions coast-to-coast (UBC, UofG, UofMontreal, McGill, and UofPEI) with special guests from Saputo Inc., and the American National Dairy FARM Program. The meeting is a vibrant exchange of ideas among participants with the fourth offering scheduled for February, 2021.

The CCSAW Seminar Series has been supported by the Saputo Dairy Care Program through funding to present cattle welfare topics from five national and international speakers.  The program has also supported talks for the Food Animal Club at OVC in addition to supporting an educational dinner for veterinary practitioners and representatives from the dairy industry organized by Heartland Veterinary Services (February, 2017, Listowel, ON) where non-ambulatory cow management and Saputo’s Animal Welfare Policy were discussed.

With a priority of supporting veterinary and producer training relating to welfare Dr. Duffield has participated in regional veterinary meetings in Ontario discussing management and issues with cull cows at sales yards. Dr. Charlotte Winder has conducted producer training workshops on disbudding / dehorning as well as development of a website with online training accessible to producers.

There are a number of unique ways that the Saputo Dairy Care Program has worked to support dairy cattle welfare. Drs. Levison, Kelton and Haley spent a day filming with Chef Dan Hayes of the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network’s Moosemeat &  Marmalade, discussing animal welfare in Canadian dairy for a web documentary exploring where food comes from. Travel for a team of four OVC veterinary students and their coach (Dr. Haley) was supported so they could compete in the American Veterinary Medical Associations Intercollegiate Animal Welfare Assessment Contest (2018). The team studied the well-being of dairy goats, along with other species, and their hard work paid off with a team second-place overall finish and an individual third overall. Dr. Duffield has spoken about cull cows at the Dairy Farmers of Ontario spring policy meeting as well touring a group of executives from a major fast food chain around the Elora Dairy Research Facility while discussing dairy cattle welfare. Dr. Haley and Dr. Duffield have supported government education on dairy welfare through participation in an update presented to OMAFRA.

The financial support from Saputo Inc. coupled with the infrastructure provided by CCSAW and OVC, has allowed training and outreach for students, veterinarians and dairy producers and is a exceptional example of success that can be achieved when industry and an educational institution partners.  For more information about the program please see the links below or contact Dr. Lena Levison, the Saputo Dairy Care Program Manager (dairywel@uoguelph.ca | 519-824-4120 x54009).

Students feedback from the Feb 2020 offering:

“This was one of my favorite rotations. The opportunity to have such great, in depth discussions about the real issues in the industry with experts (the professors) was so valuable. It really reaffirmed my commitment to wanting to keep pushing for change & not just accept the status quo. A lot of the topics, videos and  visits were really tough, but it was very thought provoking.”

“I am so glad I chose this rotation & I feel that these 5 days really helped broaden my knowledge & awareness of so much more than I had expected/hoped for & has given me a lot to think about, & I really appreciate that..”

“It is so important for vet students to be educated in welfare and great that Saputo recognizes this!”

“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and such a unique experience. Learning the Canadian welfare perspective has changed the way I will work with my future clients in the U.S.”

“Thank you for your investment in veterinary student education in animal welfare. I developed a greater appreciation for the diary industry and its ongoing efforts for animal well-being.”

“I loved this course. It was refreshing to be able to think about topics or scenarios that were not black and white and develop opinions.”

“I really enjoyed being able to ask specific questions tied to a real situation with experts able to provide answers grounded in experience.”