For the first time this year all exhibitors in the Sydney Royal Dairy Cattle Show had to prove their prized cows were not too heavy in the udder and that their handlers had not resorted to teat setting in order to catch the judge's eye.
The full compliance practice was adopted at Adelaide Royal two years ago. In the past only the winning competitors and a random selection of others had to prove compliance, using a proven ultra sound technology which measures fluid levels in the tissues surrounding the udder.
Royal Agricultural Society councillor and dairy exhibitor Ellen Downes, Ellwater Illawarras at Canowindra, said the focus on animal ethics was required now, more than ever, with a rising popularity in pro-animal activism.
"There is a concern that people could be hurting or damaging milking cows through over bagging although this is usually not the case," she said. "In fact, over-bagging is considered a major violation of the Dairy All Breeds Ethics Committee who outline ethical practices for showing.
"The ethics guidelines are designed to for all dairy cattle shows and are endorsed by the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW. In order to maintain the integrity of the dairy cattle competition and ensure animal welfare continues to be of the highest priority, the decision was made to ultra sound every milking cow competing on judging day at Sydney show this year.
While there had been some initial apprehension from competitors concerning the logistics of such a major imposition, those worries soon proved null and void with the scanning operation taking less than a minute for each cow.
"Exhibitors were comfortable with the technology used in the scanning process but there were some concerns that this would delay getting cattle into the show ring," Ms Downes said. "But our feedback from the Sydney Royal exhibitors has been positive."
"It has been educational for the exhibitors as they can access ultra sound data on each animal every time the cow is scanned, and we can prove that we have done the best by every animal in the ring."
"At the end of the day we are a public face of the dairy industry whilst at the show. We're prepared to be scrutinised because we are comfortable that the practices are reviewed and backed up by industry best practice ultrasound technology."
Tatura reproductive technician John Maher, from Maher Independent Breeding, has been practising the ultra sound scanning technique for more than 20 years, having helped to develop it with Veterinary radiologist Dr Bob O'Brien after initial discussions at the World Dairy Expo in Madison Wisconsin. Together they worked with Bern University in Switzerland to create a scaleable system to identify over-bagging based on too much pressure, or oedema, in tissue layers surrounding the udder.
We're prepared to be scrutinised because we are comfortable that the practices are reviewed and backed up by industry
Bern University based their sliding scale on heart and respiratory rates along with somatic cell counts after milking and up to 24 hours later.
If a cow is left too long before milking, or if teats are sealed with wax to prevent them from dripping, the udder can over-fill and the excess milk pressurises the muscle tissue. This discomfort can be seen under ultra sound.
Royal shows in Australian have been using the technology for winners and select random exhibitors for the past seven years but this is the first time in NSW that 100 per cent of competitors have been tested - a decision that was 12 months in planning. Adelaide Royal is the only other dairy show in Australia to have implemented this.
Mr Maher said full compliance at major events like International Dairy Week were difficult logistically because of the number of cows exhibiting. Usually the larger shows test only one third of cows for over bagging.
He said a typical cow showing the judging ring might not have been milked for 14 to 18 hours, which was not out of the realm of her natural cycle and the scientifically developed scanning process was now proving she was not being damaged by show practice.