CANADIAN dairy farmers have just received a host of new regulations they will have to embrace next year, which are designed to improve animal welfare and pacify consumers.

The latest regulations include giving cows more free space to move, an end to tethering calves and a ban on branding. its all part of the long awaited Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle, which replaced its predecessor developed in 2009 and comes into effect on April 1, 2024.

Designed, regulated and released by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) and Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) the Code is regarded as a powerful tool for meeting rising consumer, marketplace and societal expectations relative to farmed animal welfare.

The development of the code was led by an 18-person committee that includes participants from across Canada including dairy farmers, animal welfare and enforcement representatives, processors, researchers, veterinarians, and government representatives.

Some aspects of it will take effect in later years, giving farmers time to adjust to new requirements. But, any part of the code that falls under ‘requirements’ means it must be implemented by the date mentioned, and any ‘recommendation’ is a suggestion, or good advice.

It’s been quite a heavily guarded secret until now, but the new code will raise some questions over the next few months.

Pierre Lampron, president of DFC, said: "Canadian dairy farmers already follow some of the most stringent standards in the world and the new Code of Practice will help them continue to provide the best in animal care while staying consistent with our industry's history of continuous improvement.

"This commitment to quality and care means dairy farmers are always looking to stay ahead of the curve and improve their practices, reflecting the most recent science on the welfare of their animals.”

Main housing updates

The main updates released in the code refer to new requirements in housing for cows and calves. Effective from April 1, 2027, this insists cows must not be tethered continuously throughout their entire production cycle.

It states newly-built barns must allow daily, untethered freedom of movement and social interactions year-round, a hint that tie stall barns could be a thing of the past.

Having adequate space for calving in a barn is also essential, effective from April 1, 2029. Cattle on all farms, including existing barns and for those being built, must calve in loose housed maternity pens, yards, or pastures that permit them to turn around.

Calving areas, whether for group or individual calving, must provide the cow and calf an area that is clean, safe, separated from the lactating herd, and that provides enough space for the cow to be assisted.

Stocking densities of barns have also been identified as a new welfare requirement, therefore increasing the space per cow when housed. This must not exceed 1.2 cows per stall in freestall systems and then, effective from April 1, 2027, the stocking density must not exceed 1.1 cows per stall. Later, from 2031, stocking density must not normally exceed one cow per stall.

This means all barns, including newly built ones, must have the adequate space for the number of cows it houses and if it doesn’t, then cow numbers must be reduced. Resting areas in group pens must provide at least 9.3 square metres, or 100 square feet, per Holstein cow, though these requirements will be adjusted for smaller breeds.

Also new is that electric trainers must only be used when needed to train, or retrain individual cattle. Electric trainers must be safe, secure, adjustable, and positioned to enable normal eating, standing, and lying behaviour. Electrified crowd gates, that herd the cows to be milked, have been banned.

Calf housing

The new code also addresses calf housing and states calves must not be tethered in indoor housing and if outdoors, can only be tethered via a collar in a calf hutch with access to an area outside the hutch.

Producers raising calves individually must develop a plan to transition to pair or group housing methods, in consultation with a veterinarian or other qualified advisor. Then, effective from April 1, 2031, calves that are healthy, thriving and compatible, must be housed in pairs or groups by four weeks of age.

Incidentally, calves must be dehorned by two months of age and branding has been banned as an acceptable method of dehorning.