03 Jan 2018 --- From the start of this year, Finnish dairy Valio has promised to pay one cent extra per liter to entrepreneurs who have proven themselves committed to responsible dairy production. Valio has implemented the most extensive renewal of quality and production practices in the company’s history. The aim of this development work is to promote animal well-being and a better quality of life for the animals.
The “responsibility bonus” will be paid to entrepreneurs who commit to various measures to promote animal well-being, such as planned healthcare for the animals. The responsibility bonus is one cent per liter of milk. At present, about 80 percent of Valio dairy farms are covered by the reforms, and the goal is to have all farms involved by 2020.
“We’re delighted to see that dairy farmers throughout Finland are so committed to these changes. About 4,600 of the 5,800 dairy farms in the Valio group are already following the new guidelines. We will continue to provide local training, and expect a lot more farms to join the program this year,” says Juha Nousiainen, director of farm services at Valio.
“Animal welfare is increasingly important to consumers. Responsible production is absolutely essential for ensuring ethical milk production, and for ensuring that dairy products remain attractive to consumers,” says Nousiainen.
Systematic & preventive healthcare: essential to animal welfare
Promoting a better life for animals means, among other things, that all the cattle on dairy farms are covered by planned healthcare, and that all the animals are included in the centralized healthcare register for Finnish cattle herds (Naseva). This ensures that a veterinarian visits the farm at least once a year to assess many matters related to the well-being and health of the cows. The data are comparable between different farms. To receive the responsibility bonus, each dairy farm must also implement regular monitoring of the condition of the hooves. They must also ensure that pain relief and sedatives are given to calves as part of dehorning and that the procedure is carried out under the supervision of a vet. This has long been standard practice on most farms.
According to the production guidelines, every new barn must be a free-stall barn, meaning that it is built in such a way that the cows are freely able to spend time outdoors or to graze. At present, a total of about 55 percent of the cows on Valio farms live in such cowsheds. As in previous years, Valio also requires that the animal feed is free of soy and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
“Finnish cows are already the healthiest in the European Union, which is why we use antibiotics very little compared to other EU countries. We support and encourage the dairy farmers to focus more than ever on animal welfare,” says Vesa Kaunisto, chairman of the board at Valio. Kaunisto has his own dairy farm of 36 cows in the Ostrobothnian municipality of Veteli, in the west of Finland.
The welfare of animals on Valio farms is good by international standards, and about 96 percent of the milk received by Valio is in the highest quality category. In Finland, antibiotics are only administered when prescribed by a vet in response to a health problem – they are never prescribed or given preventively. As a result, the use of antibiotics in Finland is markedly less than in Central Europe, for example.
Animal welfare in milk production is important not only as a question of ethics but also in economic terms. Cattle that are healthy and contented also have a higher milk yield. Increased milk yield is partly explained by the quality of the feed and by progress in breeding. But investing in animal welfare is extremely important in this respect as well.
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