WelFarm is a veterinary- based animal welfare programme for dairy cows. It uses as its benchmarks the key global indicators that dairy processors have agreed are universal- things such as lameness and mastitis incidence; mortality; antimicrobial use and others.
This allows it to be used to benchmark dairy farms globally, across different systems. Originally developed for pasture-based dairy farms in New Zealand, VetSalus last year enrolled some UK dairy farms into it, and found that the data were surprisingly aligned. This year, VetSalus are deepening that focus and recruiting dairy farms from a number of geographic areas within the UK.
Because WelFarm is a veterinary- led programme, it places the relationship between the producer and the outcomes with their local veterinary practice. This data can of course be used to feed into whatever QA programme the producer needs to satisfy supply – eg Red Tractor and others- but importantly, it allows the producer to benchmark against other farms regionally and nationally; and, if this project is successful, globally.
We see local veterinarians as an absolutely key conduit to understanding animal welfare on farms. WelFarm gives veterinarians a simple tool to benchmark and compare between and across farms, and allows for the interpretation of that data externally. Because it measures the key building blocks of welfare, it also allows for individual practice augmentation- for example it can be the framework to which you attach other measures that may be of value to you and your clients- such as flight distance, lying times, walking distances, disease incidences, calf mortality.
We’re hopeful that WelFarm can become a global tool for vets, wherever they are, which allows for easy comparative benchmarking on animal welfare indices. This in turn enables conversations - whether they may be with the producers, who wish to access higher value returns; or whether they may be with the processors, who wish to better understand production and welfare drivers.
Ultimately of course, the consumer drives the narrative here. Having a robust and consistent veterinary-led animal welfare programme both reassures consumers and sheds light on the quality of existing farming practices. And it keeps us as veterinarians at the forefront of innovating around animal welfare.
Animal welfare is a journey - it’s like communication or parenting, it can always be better. But the key to improving is to understand where we are now, what is possible (ie where are relative to our peers), and where we want to get to next. WelFarm enables this and we’re looking forward to seeing how it complements our other activities within VetSalus.