News & Press: NZVA media release

NZVA statement: Living in mud is harmful to livestock

Monday, 13 August 2018  
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The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) is very concerned about the animal welfare consequences caused by poor practices during winter grazing, according to the NZVA’s Chief Veterinary Officer Helen Beattie.

“Intensive winter grazing and over-wintering on crops are common practices in some areas of New Zealand, yet they often result in poor welfare for animals and damage to the environment.

“As veterinarians, it is challenging to see the conditions in which some livestock are living. For example, when they are constantly living on and in mud, their physical and behavioural needs are unlikely to be met," Helen said.

“We are concerned for the wellbeing of all components – animals, people, and the environment – but the NZVA's first concern is for the animals.

“This is not simply about the physical health issues these animals may face, but also their mental state as sentient beings, which must be considered under the Animal Welfare Act.”

Helen has been actively discussing these issues with the NZVA’s primary industries branch committees, NZVA members, other stakeholders, and environmental experts.

“There's a lot of research in this area that supports our concerns. For livestock to be constantly knee-deep in mud, without adequate shelter, and unable to lie down, rest, and ruminate as they normally would, is stressful and harmful to their health overall."

Helen said there are many animal health and welfare issues that arise from livestock being kept for a prolonged time in wet and muddy conditions, including:

  • Poor hoof health that contributes to claw lesions and lameness
  • Inability for proper rest and rumination
  • Inability to express normal behaviours
  • Increased risk of mastitis
  • Reduced access to a nutritionally balanced diet
  • Unacceptable body condition scores
  • Lower resistance to disease

The NZVA supports the MPI’s reminder to pastoral livestock farmers to ensure that animals have access to areas free of surface water and mud, and appropriate protection from adverse weather.

“The NZVA would welcome engagement from regulators and other parts of industry, to work together to develop solutions that ensure that section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act is met,” Helen said.

"New Zealand was one of the first countries in the world to embrace the concepts of the five freedoms in law for animals: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from injury and disease; freedom to express normal behaviour, and adequate shelter. These concepts are now captured as part of the five domains model, where mental state is included when considering an animal's welfare.

"The Animal Welfare Act 1999, section 4, defines the physical, health and behavioural needs in relation to animals. This definition includes proper and sufficient food, proper and sufficient water, adequate shelter, opportunity to display normal patterns of behaviour, physical handling in a manner which minimises the likelihood of unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress, protection from, and rapid diagnosis of, any significant injury or disease, being needs which, in each case, are appropriate to the species, environment, and circumstances of the animal.

“When appropriately undertaken (which includes consideration of all three areas of concern - animals, humans, and the environment), I believe that it will be possible for intensive winter grazing to fulfil all the requirements of the Act. However, modifications to current practice will be needed in many instances,” Helen said.

“These criteria can be met when shelter, water, and/or the ability to display normal patterns of behaviour are provided for (for example, lying time for cows, shelter from inclement weather, and provision of fresh water). Dry, sheltered run-off areas, with adequate lying space are required, as is unlimited access to fresh water, and adequate nutrition (bearing in mind a monoclonal forage crop diet in late pregnancy is not likely to meet dietary needs perfectly).

“Providing dry areas for rest and rumination is an expectation under the Animal Welfare Act, to allow expression of normal behaviours. However, when it’s wet and muddy, cows lie down less than they might otherwise choose to, and often not until they are exhausted.

"The NZVA encourages farmers to discuss all of these aspects with their veterinarian,” Helen said.

“The NZVA would also embrace a pan-industry initiative on this issue, so that farmers are supported and provided with solutions to the current situation.

“Industry as a whole has allowed for this practice to become common. We all have a responsibility to now rectify the situation, and to protect not only our animals, but the environment, and the people who are affected by this practice."

Reference: NZVA statement: The Animal Welfare Act must protect animals