Canada’s Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle lays out guidelines for the care of dairy cows in the country. With the Dairy Farmers of Canada’s new proAction program, farmers will be able to demonstrate how their animals receive the best care possible, while continuously improving the well-being of the cattle under their care.

Dairy farming in Canada is big business: in 2016 the Government of Canada reported that there were just over 1.4 million dairy cows in the country and close to 11,500 dairy farms, producing nearly 85 million hectolitres of milk. In Ontario, there are approximately 500,000 dairy cattle and 3,700  farms — making dairy the largest industry in the province’s agricultural sector, producing about $2 billion worth of milk annually.

The proAction program ensures the best cattle care

The proAction program makes sure that Canadian dairy farmers run high-quality, sustainable farms. Maria Leal, Assurance Programs and Field Services Manager at Dairy Farmers of Ontario says, “proAction is an umbrella program covering several elements: milk quality, food safety, animal care, livestock traceability, biosecurity, and environmental sustainability. The Code of Practice defines the requirements for animal welfare and proAction ensures they’re being followed through a verification process. Farmers are audited every two years. This initiative puts the Canadian dairy industry ahead of much of the world.”

The program also brings consumers closer to the farm. David Wiens, Chair of the proAction Committee and a Manitoba dairy farmer, says, “One of the main goals of the program is to increase transparency and let customers get more information about the products they consume. The proAction program  shows people what’s happening on dairy farms.”

The animal care section of proAction was published in July 2015 and lays out targets for farmers. “Every dairy farmer will need to complete an independent animal assessment,” says Wiens. “Following the national guidelines for dairy cattle care, independent assessors score each herd in terms of cow health — things like body condition and incidence of lameness — and separate auditors evaluate conformance with standards for housing, from the quality of bedding to the space given to each cow, health practices, handling, access to feed and water, among others.” The proAction program formalizes the process and gives farmers a rating for each metric. “If you can’t measure where you’re at, you can’t improve,” adds Wiens. Animal assessments started last September and audits or “validations” will begin this September.

Dairy farmers are in tune with consumers

Milk quality, animal well-being, and sustainability have always been priorities on Canadian dairy farms. As Leal says, “Caring for their cattle comes naturally to dairy farmers. It’s not simply a job — the family farm is their home, their livelihood, and their passion. Farmers want healthy, comfortable cows that can produce a high quality product.”

With contented cattle comes good, quality milk; productive, healthy herds; and a strong, stable industry. The proAction program lets consumers know just how much commitment and pride Ontario’s dairy farmers have toward first-rate cow care and comfort.