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Canadian dairy cattle veterinarian perspectives on calf welfare

Sumner, C.L., von Keyserlingk, M.A.G.
Journal of dairy science 2018 v.101 no.11 pp. 10303-10316
adult education, adults, animal diseases, animal welfare, bulls, dairy calves, dairy herds, disease and pest management, farmers, farms, focus groups, hunger, nutrition, professional ethics, veterinarians, Canada
As advisors to dairy farmers, veterinarians are ideally positioned to influence the health of the dairy herd. Recent studies have demonstrated that dairy cattle veterinarians are also concerned about animal welfare, specifically on issues related to the housing environment, painful conditions and procedures, and managing disease in adult animals. However, less is known regarding their perspectives on calf welfare. The goal of this study was to engage cattle veterinarians in an in-depth discussion to gain a better understanding of what they think about calf welfare, and to provide clarity on what they feel is their responsibility to improve the welfare of dairy calves. Focus groups (n = 5), that collectively had 33 participants representing 5 Canadian provinces and different geographical regions, were conducted as part of a continuing education workshop for Canadian cattle veterinarians. Two trained individuals undertook exploratory data analysis using applied thematic analysis, where initial themes were identified and used to develop a detailed codebook to further guide the coding process. All transcripts were coded twice to test the validity of the initial codes and themes. Four major themes were identified: (1) veterinarians prioritized calf health and traded off this issue for other issues such as the calf's social needs; additionally, concerns included nutrition, hunger, and bull calf management; (2) veterinarians see their role in improving calf welfare within the context of shifting norms of calf management, believed to be consequence of pressure from within their profession, but also arising from pressure from their clients and the public; (3) veterinarians see their role as one of exerting social influence, primarily as an educator of their clients; and finally, (4) veterinarians see their responsibility in improving calf welfare as shaped by their personal values and professional ethics. Our results indicate that the veterinarians participating in this study are concerned about a range of calf welfare issues, believe they should have a more active role in calf management on farms, and see their role in improving calf welfare as shaped by their own values, the needs of their clients, and the concerns of the public.