Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability

NewStream Farm Animal Care, Volume 1, Edition 14

Eye on Stampede: Progress making headlines

Posted: July 16, 2013

Leading-edge IRT technology and a fresh, open approach to questions are two examples of how the event is making significant inroads on farm animal care

Photo credit: Calgary Stampede

The Calgary Stampede is making animal care news for the right reasons during this year's edition of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.

The world-renowned event has made notable innovations in recent years to strengthen all of its processes related to animal care, including codes of practice, protocols and communications with the public. It's all part of a renewed strategy to support a culture of industry leading standards and continuous improvement.

Two stories highlighted in the early days of Stampede are good examples of the progressive mindset that has taken hold.

High-tech look at bucking animals

One that has drawn attention is the use of an infrared thermography (IRT) device being used for research on the behavior of animals just prior to bucking events. The IRT tool is used to scan the eyes of bucking horses and bulls as a means to measure physiological cues that may indicate stress or excitement.

"We're looking at the potential of this tool to help us identify some of the more subtle cues of the animal's emotional response," says Dr. Ed Pajor of the University of Calgary, a leading animal care researcher and member of the Calgary Stampede's animal care advisory committee. "We're looking at questions such as 'Is the animal showing stress or excitement just prior performing?' or 'Is the animal finding the situation adverse or not?' We're also looking at differences between new animals and experienced animals."

It's all part of finding new and better ways to measure animal well-being, he says. "Improved measurement will help us learn more about what the animals experience and that in turn can inform our strategies for improving care. What's attractive about IRT is its potential as a non-invasive, quick method to look at the physiological response in animals without having to do something like take a blood sample."

IRT technology has also been used for research purposes directed at opportunities for innovation in agriculture, says Pajor. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has been a leader in this type of research. "It has been used to identify the animal's response to a lot of specific management practices, particularly in pigs and in dairy cows."

Online Q&A forum

Another story capturing headlines is the move by Calgary Stampede to open an online Q&A forum to answer "any and all" questions about animals.

Dr. Ed Pajor (green shirt) serves on the Calgary Stampede animal care committee

Pajor says this is one small part of an overall effort in support of open dialogue and engagement with public around the topic of animal care.

"This flows from some of the recommendations put forth by the animal care committee through discussions that started several years ago," he says. "But the progress to get to this point really is the result of Calgary Stampede taking animal care seriously and making a commitment to leadership."

Among the many innovations, Calgary Stampede now supports annual third-party audits of its animal care codes of practice. "Taking that step was really important," says Pajor. "It's a reflection of the direction they have adopted and I really believe they are on the right path. It's not about perfection but about having nothing to hide and being accountable to keep getting better. I think that's why we're seeing more positive stories coming out."

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