Ensuring good practice in the showring

The welfare of livestock at shows has been an issue raised recently following the controversial practice of teat sealing to enhance cows showing appearance. Carl Padgett, president of the British Veterinary Association, explains what the association are doing to combat such practices

Agricultural shows, be they high-profile national events or homespun, local one-day events, are an integral part of the British summer and an annual celebration of rural pride. They provide a shop window in the farming community.

Livestock competing for trophies and championships represent the best-quality animals selected from herds and flocks. These immaculately presented animals are a testament to the commitment and hard work of their owners. However, it would appear the cut and thrust of competition may, on rare occasions, lead exhibitors to compromise the welfare of their animals in the show ring.

Recent coverage highlighting the controversial practice of teat sealing being performed on lactating dairy cattle, in combination with restricted milking in an attempt to enhance the appearance of a cow’s udder, has shone a light on the issue of animal welfare at shows. Teat sealing in this context is clearly an act the veterinary profession cannot condone, and the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) has been robust in its support of the RABDF’s new rule to ban it.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) recognises, however, that this is not the only serious welfare issue that arises at livestock shows. Our members have highlighted other concerns such as the restriction of water intake for beef cattle; over-housing and overcrowding, especially when the weather is hot; the use of power washers to clean stock; and the welfare of animals during transport. These issues have been raised in discussions at BVA and as a result we will be defining our position on the welfare of showing animals, not just cattle, at the next meeting of our Ethics and Welfare Group.

Whatever position the BVA and BCVA arrive at, co-operation between all stakeholders will be the key to stamping out unacceptable practices and improving the welfare of the animals concerned. In our work on pedigree dog welfare, we brought together the stakeholders from all sides of the debate and we are in the process of developing jointly branded educational resources for the dog-owning public.

BVA and BCVA believe livestock breeders, breed societies, farmers, show organisers, vets and welfare organisations should continue to work in partnership to create a solution to ensure practices that could compromise animal welfare can no longer occur at livestock shows.

While we recognise these are the activities of a minority, this minority must not be allowed to sully the reputation of the majority of breeders who take great care of, and pride in, the animals they exhibit. Codes of conduct and rules and regulations for showing should reflect that the requirements for the best possible welfare are paramount and must be well publicised and strongly upheld by all – we must ensure together that public confidence in livestock shows is not damaged irreparably.

• Do you have an opinion on livestock showing and some of the controversial practices associated with it? What should the industry be doing to stamp out unacceptable practices? Why not get in touch by emailing fwlivestock@rbi.co.uk with your thoughts or send a letter to Farmers Weekly, Quadrant House, The Quadrant, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5AS

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