Is your dairy doing all the right things?
The fact that the dairy industry is under increasing scrutiny regarding animal care and drug use is not exactly news. Although some may feel that this is unwanted or undeserved attention, we can also choose to see this as an opportunity to prove and take pride in the fact that we are providing safe, nutritious food from animals that are well cared for in a healthy environment. Certainly one of the positive outcomes of all this attention is that there is now an abundance of resources for farmers looking to prove that they are "doing the right thing". Some great examples of this include National Milk Producers Federation's National Dairy FARM Program, the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association's Food Armor, and Merck's Dairy Care365.
One of the major benefits to participating in these programs is that a dairy can document what they've done to prepare for, or better yet, prevent the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario might be an incident where an employee makes a poor decision regarding animal handling, or an accidental drug residue violation. Milk buyers at all levels - from the big retailers to your coop to the family shopping in the local grocery store - want to know that dairy farmers are taking active steps to prevent these things from happening. So what can your dairy do to "prove it"?
A team of University of Minnesota veterinarians, with help from dairy processors and producers in Minnesota, compiled a set of resources to help producers achieve and document adherence to some important "best practices". View the full compilation. Here are some of the highlights:
- A valid Veterinary-Client-Patient-Relationship. In simple terms, this means that farmers should be working with a veterinarian on a regular basis to ensure animal health and proper drug use. The American Association of Bovine Practitioners has an excellent document detailing the terms of this relationship.
- Written protocols for detecting and treating all the common diseases on your dairy. The best way to ensure sick animals are identified quickly and treated appropriately is to have a written plan. Treatment protocols should be written with the help of a veterinarian, but all members of the animal care team should understand the protocols and agree to follow them. Treatment protocols should include certain standard elements, including proper drug administration to minimize residue risk, drug withdrawal periods, and record keeping instructions. In addition, treatment protocols should be reviewed - signed and dated - yearly to ensure that they are being followed and comply with drug use regulations, which can and do change.
- Written SOPs for animal care and other important job tasks. In addition to treatments, there are a lot of other procedures that take place on a dairy and are important to perform correctly. For example, euthanasia of a terminally ill or injured animal, moving non-ambulatory animals, or diverting milk from treated animals from the bulk tank. Many of these tasks should be assigned to specific, trained individuals to make sure they are performed correctly and to make sure they don't slide through the cracks. Again, the best way to ensure that these tasks are done correctly is to have a written plan.
- Training for all employees and family members working on the dairy. Once you have all these written protocols and SOPs, it is important to make sure that everyone on the dairy knows how to use them. Part of that is making sure the protocols are accessible and understandable. That means that protocols may need to be translated to Spanish, should include pictures whenever possible, and should be posted in an accessible location. Beyond that, training ensures that even workers with poor reading comprehension understand how to do their jobs correctly. Key topics for training include drug use and treatment procedures, care of sick or injured animals, stockmanship, worker safety, and what to do in case of emergency. It's also a good time to have employees sign a cow care agreement, stating that they understand that animal abuse will not be tolerated and should be reported to a manager immediately.
- Documentation. Should the worst-case scenario occur, you want to be able to prove that you did everything you could to prevent it. This means keeping updated, written records of employee training, cow care agreements, protocols and SOPs.
Since one barrier for many producers and their veterinarians is finding time for paperwork, we've provided downloadable protocol and SOP templates on our website. These templates are fully customizable word documents. We've also provided a set of best practices resources, including factsheets, links and videos, on caring for down cows, euthanasia, drug residues, milk quality and lameness. The best place to get started? Have a team meeting with your veterinarian and key employees to discuss and implement you dairy's best practices.