Wednesday, April 24, 2024

World-first disbudding alternative developed by NZ vets

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Kiwi farmers could soon have another tool to add to their animal welfare kit.
The product under development has been successfully tested on calves and appears to be both safe and effective. The photo above shows that a horn only developed on the side that was not treated.
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Demand for improved animal welfare and sustainability has led to substantial change in the ways that Kiwi vets and farmers care for dairy cattle. However, in recent years, research and development in veterinary medicines for farm animals by large veterinary pharmaceutical companies has been replaced by research focused on global products for domestic dogs and cats. Welfare Concepts was created in answer to the unmet health and welfare needs of New Zealand’s substantial dairy herd.

Welfare Concepts co-founders Richard Emslie and Richard Olde Riekerink, both NZ-registered veterinarians, have both on-the-ground experience as large animal vets and product development experience in the research and development of veterinary medicines at leading brands, including Bayer and Elanco. 

Over the past few years, they have narrowed target products under development to five for dairy cattle. 

The first of the innovations to be announced is a world-first method that offers an alternative to the painful and somewhat outdated “disbudding” procedure in young calves.

Disbudding involves the use of a hot iron to cauterise the tissue where horns would normally develop. Research suggests it’s not unusual for calves to feel pain due to the open wound, or its healing process.

Welfare Concepts’ patented pharmaceutical is injected underneath the area in which horn buds develop and has a localised effect, preventing hornbud development. The product has been successfully tested on calves and appears to be both safe and effective, the company said. Researchers are optimising the product and preparing for clinical trials, after which the product will be scaled up for commercial manufacture.

“Up to a million young calves destined to join the country’s dairy herds each year undergo the routine removal of the tissue that would see them develop horns. Disbudding is important to protect herdmates and people from possible injury from horns. While many beef cattle have been bred to eliminate horns, the genes responsible for horn development are closely associated with milk production, meaning most dairy calves worldwide undergo a painful procedure,” Olde Riekerink said.

“Welfare Concepts believes that if we have the knowledge and know-how to make animals far more comfortable, it should be our responsibility to do so. There are a lot of processes and procedures like this one that can and should be improved using modern veterinarian science”

“NZ leads the world in dairy exports. We believe that it’s also time to lead the world in calf and cow care. We’re proud to be partnering with AgriHealth to achieve this through innovative dairy cattle veterinary medicines,” Emslie said.

Ed Catherwood, managing director of AgriHealth, the sole investor in the seed round, said

consumers around the world care about how animals are treated. 

“Given the export market opportunity for New Zealand food produced to high welfare standards, the time for locally led innovation is now. What Welfare Concepts has developed has the potential to reshape an industry ripe for disruption and we’re excited to be partnering with them,” he said. 

To date, the animal health company has raised $3 million to develop a handful of pharmaceutical innovations that it believes will bring about a step-change in the health and welfare of NZ’s dairy herds. 

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