Valio said the “responsibility bonus” is being paid to suppliers who commit to various measures to promote animal wellbeing, such as planned healthcare for the animals.
The company said about 80% of Valio dairy farms are covered by the reforms, and the goal is to have all farms included by 2020.
Juha Nousiainen, director of farm services at Valio, said the company was impressed so many dairy farmers throughout Finland are committed to the changes.
“About 4,600 of the 5,800 dairy farms in the Valio group are already following the new guidelines,” Nousiainen said.
“We will continue to provide local training, and expect a lot more farms to join the program this year.
“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.”
Regular vet visits
One benefit of improved animal welfare is all cattle on dairy farms are covered by planned healthcare, and all animals are included in the centralized healthcare register for Finnish cattle herds (Naseva).
This ensures a veterinarian visits the farm at least once a year to assess the cows’ health and wellbeing.
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 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 at most farms.
According to the production guidelines, every new barn must be a free-stall barn, meaning 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% of the cows on Valio farms live in such cowsheds.
Valio also requires animal feed to be free of soy and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Healthiest cows in EU
Vesa Kaunisto, chairman of the board at Valio, said Finnish cows are already the healthiest in the European Union.
“We use antibiotics very little compared to other EU countries,” Kaunisto said.
Animal welfare in milk production is important not only as a question of ethics, but also in economic terms, Valio said.