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Journal of Animal Science Abstract - Special Topics

Management practices associated with stress in cattle on western Canadian cow–calf operations: A mixed methods study1


This article in JAS

  1. Vol. 95 No. 4, p. 1836-1844
    Received: Dec 14, 2016
    Accepted: Feb 10, 2017
    Published: April 13, 2017

    2 Corresponding author(s):

  1. M. A. Moggy*,
  2. E. A. Pajor*,
  3. W. E. Thurston*,
  4. S. Parker,
  5. A. M. Greter,
  6. K. S. Schwartzkopf-Genswein§,
  7. J. R. Campbell and
  8. M. C. Windeyer 2*
  1. * University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada, T2N 1N4
     University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada, S7N 5B4
     Alberta Farm Animal Care, High River, AB, Canada, T1V 1M4
    § Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Lethbridge, AB, Canada, T1J 4B1


Handling, weaning, and euthanasia are some of the most stressful practices performed on cow–calf operations. Although strategies to minimize stress exist, their use on western Canadian cow–calf operations is unknown. The objectives were to describe current stress-associated practices on western Canadian cow–calf operations, describe producer and operation demographics associated with the use of nonabrupt weaning methods, and explore producer perceptions toward these practices. A questionnaire focusing on stressful management practices was delivered to 109 cow–calf producers in western Canada. Fifteen respondents were purposively selected for individual interviews. The majority of producers reported calves less than 1 wk of age were handled by manual restraint (87%) and those older than 1 wk of age were handled using a cattle squeeze or table. Most producers performed abrupt weaning (70%). Interviewees often mentioned that cost and logistics were major factors in deciding on a weaning strategy. Pasture availability and facilities were viewed as constraints toward the adoption of a nonabrupt weaning method. Animal stress was considered, as producers expressed concern that nonabrupt weaning methods may cause increased stress because of the additional handling required. Producers conveyed that animal age was a major factor that impacted weaning stress and that improved animal performance might motivate them to adopt a nonabrupt weaning strategy. Producers also expressed reluctance to change previously successful traditional approaches. Of respondents, 13% did not euthanize cattle on farm and 8% did not confirm death. Producers interviewed reported that the decision to euthanize cattle on farm was difficult and that veterinary advice was often considered. Factors that influenced their decision to euthanize included the animal’s likelihood of recovery and degree of pain and distress. Finally, producers explained that they considered whether the animal was salvageable and able to be transported. Identification of common methods of handling provides focus for future research to determine optimal handling strategies. Identified barriers to nonabrupt weaning may be addressed through research, extension, or policy to encourage the adoption of weaning methods that could improve animal welfare. Confirmation of death after euthanasia was identified as an area that needs to be addressed by producer education to minimize animal stress during on-farm euthanasia.

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