Ontario Goat (OG) is helping both new and experienced goat producers understand and improve the welfare of their herd to ensure animal wellbeing, profitability, and public trust for the sector through practical and innovative new resources. Resources cover key topics such as preventing and detecting disease in kids, assessing herd welfare, a new body condition scoring system, and updated recommendations for on-farm euthanasia. These resources are designed to ensure producers are fully equipped to maintain and improve on-farm animal welfare by bringing together information from a variety of sources and industry experts into easy to reference resources.
“The Ontario goat industry is moving from a niche industry to mainstream agriculture and this means that there is increasing interest in goat welfare both at the farm level and with consumers. These welfare resources will help producers ensure good animal welfare from birth, throughout production, and up to shipping or on-farm euthanasia”, states OG President, Anton Slingerland.
In 2014, goat welfare was just starting to generate interest as many other livestock sectors had been through a series of “undercover” videos released by animal activists. The OG Board of Directors knew it was important to be proactive as this issue would become a very important one for the goat sector. After much thought and planning, the OG Board developed the “On-Farm Welfare Producer Education” project, in partnership with Veal Farmers of Ontario and received leveraged funding through Growing Forward 2.
OG carefully considered welfare resources currently available to producers and designed resources to address key areas where producers have been looking for more information and resources are lacking. For example, after reviewing currently available Body Condition Scoring (BCS) Systems, OG found these were designed for meat goat producers or people with a strong understanding of the internal anatomy of a goat. It was clear that OG needed to lead the industry by developing an easy to use BCS system tailored to dairy goats. OG developed illustrations and paired these with real photos of goats as well as clear descriptions. This resulted in a simple, easy to use handout. This resource will improve animal welfare but also increase productivity by helping producers ensure their dairy goats are at the ideal weight for each stage of production.
Also included among the new resources is a shipping checklist to help ensure only fit goats are loaded for transport and a twelve page booklet on covering on-farm euthanasia. Together with the BCS system, these resources help producers make the best decisions for their animals at a time when welfare is most at-risk. By ensuring sick or injured goats are humanely euthanized on-farm and only fit animals are shipped, producers protect animal welfare and ensure public trust that the goat industry is doing the right thing.
The on-farm welfare assessment is another first for Ontario goat producers. Based on OG’s “Best management practices for commercial goat production” and the National Farm Animal Care Council’s “Recommended code of practice for the care and handling of farm animals – goats,” the assessment allows producers to tour their own operation to benchmark the level of welfare on-farm and identify a farm’s strengths as well as areas to improve in order to provide the best welfare.
“Nothing like this existed when I first started out milking goats”, comments Eldon Bowman, OG Vice President. “I wish there had of been these helpful, detailed resources back then. They are great for both existing and new producers to use and further show the investment that OG is making in producers and the goat industry as a whole”, he further states.