5 Christmas gifts for your animals (and you)

To enhance health and welfare.

Étienne Gosselin | Agronomist | Journalist

With the Holidays upon us, gifts are naturally on our minds. Don't forget to give your animals something, too! Here's what their wish list would look like.

1. Clippers for cattle and horses 
You know how good it feels when you get a haircut. Same goes for your animals! Time to get them a nice pair of clippers.

Benoit Lavallée, agricultural products advisor for Coop Comax, says you should look for light, quiet and powerful clippers so you can clip fur more quickly and easily. Good clippers are particularly helpful in the fall to rid animals of excess moisture trapped in their hair. Cost: $500 to $800.

2. Feeding station 
Do you like eggnog? Calves prefer their protein shake! Instead of 2 main meals of milk a day, calves prefer several small feeds from a station spread out over the day.

These calf feeding stations also include a control computer that adjusts quantities based on age. It monitors each animal's intake and delivers milk in just the right concentration and at the right temperature.

Results: happier calves during the day for enhanced welfare, better weight gain and one less thing to do. Approximate cost: $13,000; varies depending on supplier. Concrete platform, water and electricity needed.

3. Group housing for pregnant sows
By no later than 2022, pork producers will have to provide group housing for pregnant sows. Why not make that transition in 2018?

Agronomist Jean Tanguay, Olymel's economic evaluation coordinator, says it doesn't cost any more to house sows in groups than in individual stalls. Yes, animal density is reduced, but the lower cost of equipment (i.e., stalls) offsets the difference.

New pig house: $35 per square foot; can, of course, vary depending on set-up and equipment. Conversion of a pig house: $300 to $400 per sow (rule of thumb). Contact your experts or the Centre de développement du porc du Québec for more information.

4. Rotary pivoting brushes
What if happiness had a frequency and it was 30 rpm? All goats and cattle will love the feel of a rotary pivoting brush that allows them to easily scratch and clean themselves.

This natural grooming behaviour will be encouraged with hard-bristle brushes that promote better circulation for your animals, better performance and enhanced health and welfare. Once they're installed, you'll see how much your animals will love them. Approximate cost: $3,300; brush replacement: $550.

5. Pivoting infrared web cameras
Some producers say that the less they're in the barn, the less they disturb their animals.

We may agree or disagree with that statement. But everyone agrees that having a pivoting infrared web camera eliminates the need to stay up as late keeping an eye on your animals. They can even notify you by text when a vehicle arrives on the farm (e.g., veterinarian, inseminator or your favourite account manager), and they're accessible on a tablet, phone or computer.

According to many sources, these communication systems pay for themselves in less than a year--not to mention that they can keep you from missing Christmas Eve with the family!

Approximate cost for 4 cameras and turn-key installation by bringing your home Internet to the farm: $1,200 to $2,000; varies depending on supplier.

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