Canadian dairy farmers know the importance of animal care to the farm. “We know that cows that are comfortable and relaxed are also more productive, so we ensure their comfort is our number one priority,” says David Wiens, Vice President of the Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC), and Chair of proAction Advisory Committee, a quality assurance program established by DFC to prove and validate the extensive measures Canadian farmers take to produce milk responsibly. 

All licensed dairy farmers in Canada are required to follow the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle, a national set of guidelines that were developed by retailers, veterinarians, scientists, policymakers, and government bodies. In addition, each province has its own regulatory board that deals with issues of milk quality and safety, hygiene, and animal care. 

Stricter guidelines for better products

In 2017, Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) received the authority to enforce animal welfare provisions. “The Board went to the provincial government and asked for a regulatory change to enforce animal welfare issues if we came across them,” says Maria Leal, Assistant Director of Quality Assurance and Field Services with Dairy Farmers of Ontario. “It may seem counterintuitive that producers would want to impose more rules on themselves, but that’s an example of the extent to which the board is willing to provide confidence to our stakeholders that we produce a product responsibly.”

And now, under proAction, all Canadian farms are undergoing an animal welfare assessment to determine if they’re following the requirements of the Code of Practice. “Farmers know that Canadians are very concerned about how their food is produced, so it’s important that we are sharing the best management practices we have in place through proAction with consumers,” Wiens points out.

“We know that cows that are comfortable and relaxed are also more productive, so we ensure their comfort is our number one priority."
– David Wiens, Dairy Farmers of Canada

The proAction program has six modules, of which animal care is one. The other five include milk quality, food safety, traceability, biosecurity, and the environment. The biosecurity module — released later this year — is designed to protect cattle from disease. The biosecurity module contains distinct protocols and standards to identify and prevent potential risks — focusing on herd health and disease prevention. 

Helping farmers help themselves

Aside from offering quality assurance, the proAction validation process gives farmers specific areas of opportunity for improvement on the farm. “It’s a continuous improvement process that can be measured,” Wiens notes. Verification visits take place every year, with an on-farm audit taking place every two years to ensure that all the proAction modules are actually being followed. The auditors evaluate the state of the farm, the cattle and assess spacing, square footage, bedding, and how the calves are looked after. To further ensure impartiality, the auditors themselves are audited by another independent third-party. “This ensures that the auditing is consistent and correct, whether the farm is in Quebec or Ontario,” says Wiens.

To ensure follow through, any defects or deficiencies that are found during the audit must be corrected within a certain time frame. “In Ontario, when a farmer does not meet regulatory requirements for farm premises, animal care, milk quality and safety, consequences can range from financial penalties to permanent shut-off,” says Leal. “A producer could be kicked out of the industry for not meeting the requirements.”

Visit proAction to learn more.