Katie Mason

In October 2018, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) introduced new animal welfare regulations (relating to care and procedures). It seems timely to revisit these, in light of more new welfare regulations becoming active in October 2019 (regarding pain relief for disbudding and dehorning of cattle of all ages).

It is important to note that the vast majority of people are already promoting excellent animal health and welfare. New regulations strengthen an existing suite of animal welfare regulations, making mild to moderate welfare infringements more easily prosecutable. Most farmers understand that it is in everyone’s interest to ‘put our best foot forward’, promoting New Zealand dairying on the world stage. Welfare is a key marketing message to enable export of NZ produce globally.

Animal welfare regulations were developed in consultation with industry stakeholders, vets and farmers and so it makes sense that this consultation process continues in the form of individual farmer and vet discussions.

What we do well in NZ is get everyone on the same page quickly, and manage industry changes promptly and efficiently, in comparison with our counterparts abroad. We run a slick, centralised system with an outcome focused approach, and we should be proud of this.

Under the suite of October 2018 regulations; fines for individuals or body corporates failing to meet minimum requirements range from $300 to $25,000, depending on the level and type of infringement. Infringements covered by these regulations include tail docking cattle and stock transport (more detailed information can be found at www.mpi. govt.nz).

Animal welfare regulations were developed in consultation with industry stakeholders, vets and farmers and so it makes sense that this consultation process continues in the form of individual farmer and vet discussions, as changes are made to farming businesses.

Ahead of the October 2019 disbudding and dehorning regulations; supporting resources and training opportunities will be available through MPI, DairyNZ and local vet practices. Previously young calves could be disbudded and animals as old as nine months old could be dehorned, without any pain relief. From October 2019, pain relief (in the form of local anaesthetic) will need to be administered to all ages of cattle undergoing disbudding or dehorning.

Disbudding uses a hot iron which cauterises and destroys the horn-producing cells of the horn bud. Dehorning refers to removal of the horn that has already grown from the horn bud. Disbudding and dehorning are considered painful procedures.

Recently, the New Zealand Veterinary Association has delivered a series of workshops to vets to make sure they are geared up to best support farmers to comply with the October 2019 regulations. Step-by-step best practice instructions for these common procedures have also been developed.

Local anaesthetic is a registered vet medicine so vets will need to authorise their use. This can be done in a number of ways: through appropriate training, veterinary authorisations to the farmer (animal owner) or veterinary operating instructions (VOI) given to those performing the procedure (not the animal owners). Do not overlook the benefits and convenience of having your vet or vet technician do the job for you. Your vet will be able to advise you on how best to comply with new regulations and which option best fits your business model.

Research has indicated that calves given local anaesthetic pain relief at the time of disbudding display fewer behavioural changes associated with pain and stress. It is important to note however that the local anaesthetic needs to be administered in exactly the correct place to provide pain relief so training in the precise technique is paramount.

Effects of the local anaesthetics are also short-lived. In most cases, long-term pain relief (together with the local anaesthetic) is also indicated in the form of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Learn more about the upcoming animal welfare regulations at the MPI and DairyNZ websites and chat to your local vet. Timely compliance and changes applied ahead of time will reduce stress and disruption during the busy mating period.