Animal welfare was accorded a prominent place on the AABP program. General sessions included presentations on veterinary application of low-stress cattle handling, and veterinarians' roles in animal handling and in ensuring animal welfare.
Drs. Tom Noffsinger and Lynn Locatelli gave the presentation on low-stress cattle handling. Dr. Noffsinger said, "It's become a commonsense, low-cost, high-yield management tool in our practice." The goal is to encourage cattle to communicate their true state of health to their caretakers. Besides promoting animal welfare, this enables pen riders to detect lameness, digestive issues, and performance problems. The end result is better productivity.
Pen riders should be there to create wellness, not primarily to detect illness, Dr. Noffsinger said. Veterinarians need to teach caretakers about such things as confinement anxiety and communicating with animals. Trust is won by reassuring cattle one is not a predator—by avoiding focused, linear, rigid movements, for example. Through videos, the presenters described techniques such as applying pressure to initiate a response, releasing it to reward a positive response. Building a thought process in pen riders will increase their interest in diagnostics and their confidence and skill in intervening.
Speaking about veterinarians' roles in ensuring animal welfare, Dr. Janice Swanson said they should participate in establishing standards and guidelines of care for animals they serve, and delineate their responsibilities to the stakeholders. "You're not just taking care of (animals), you're using them for an intended purpose, and that purpose shortens their life," she said. Clients often rely on their veterinarian for guidance on animal handling, Dr. Swanson said.
Threats to animal agriculture was the theme of an afternoon general session in which Dr. Will Hueston addressed the North American bovine spongiform encephalopathy situation; Dr. Beth Williams, chronic wasting disease and animal agriculture; and Dr. Alfonso Torres, exotic disease threats.
In a cow-calf session, speaker Dr. Gary Wilson said that confusion abounds over the "two hottest issues in the cattle industry today"—Country of Origin Labeling and the National Animal Identification System. Explaining how they affect veterinarians and their clients, he said they're two initiatives addressing two issues, but they have two things in common: both are voluntary and have animal identification requirements.
Dr. Dee Griffin talked about the importance of general practitioners to industry and the profession, at a time when many producers prefer working with veterinary consultants. Veterinarians are rooted in prevention of health problems not only in animals but also humans, so family veterinarians carry an advantage. "You're teaching farmers how to treat their calves but not get your children sick," Dr. Griffin said. "Our ability to care for an animal's health is frequently at the core of its owner's mental well-being." Financially, practitioners help area producers improve their animal health and production management efficiency. And with 63 percent of the nation's cowherd being in small herds, it is general practitioners who will stand as the first line of defense in reaching most animals if a livestock emergency were to arise.