Dairy Farms Are in Their Sights
Published in Dairy Star June 18, 2010
Most dairy producers have heard about or viewed the recently released video of animal abuse on an Ohio farm. Anyone who has seen it will agree the actions shown are intolerable. The important thing is what farmers learn about preventing this kind of animal treatment on their own farms. What should be learned may be down two different avenues: livestock handling procedures and employment practices. The two are closely related because having the right employees with positive attitudes about handling animals will help make livestock handling procedures easier to manage.
Employee selection is as much an art as a science. Besides an interview, some employers put candidates through a practical interview by having them perform a typical task that they profess to understand or know the skills to perform. It quickly sorts out the 'pretenders' from the truly skilled and lets you observe their stockmanship skills and attitudes. This is just part of the employment process but one worth considering.
The fact that undercover videos pop up from time to time reinforces that many farms are probably short on checking backgrounds of prospective employees and spending time orientating them to proper animal care. Hiring any warm body that shows up can more easily result in this kind of 'undercover' employee.
The other important step is having a livestock care and handling policy in place. While you may have an implied policy of good animal care and handling, do you have it in writing, and have you shared it with your workforce?
A farm's policy doesn't need to be long and complex, but it should outline your expectations for respectful treatment of all animals on the farm, what you expect of employees if they observe anyone abusing animals, and the consequences if they are found guilty of abusing animals. The American Veterinary Medical Association adopted a concise set of principles that might give you some ideas. (Source: AVMA Animal Welfare Principles)
- Decisions regarding animal care, use, and welfare shall be made by balancing scientific knowledge and professional judgment with consideration of ethical and societal values.
- Animals must be provided water, food, proper handling, health care, and an environment appropriate to their care and use, with thoughtful consideration for their species-typical biology and behavior.
- Animals should be cared for in ways that minimize fear, pain, stress, and suffering.
- Procedures related to animal housing, management, care, and use should be continuously evaluated, and when indicated, refined or replaced.
- Animals shall be treated with respect and dignity throughout their lives and, when necessary, provided a humane death.
Some of that language may feel a bit cumbersome, but the concepts should be adaptable to your needs.
Here are steps I'd suggest for you and your farm:
- If you don't already have one, develop a policy of animal care and handling.
- Write the policy down.
- Share the policy with everyone on the farm (family and hired employees alike).
- Be sure everyone understands the policy expectations and consequences of non-compliance.
- Provide training, if necessary.
- Have everyone sign a copy of the policy as part of their employment contract.
- Periodically review and remind everyone of the policy to be sure it is followed.
- Follow the policy!
If you implement these suggestions, you should have little to fear from being the subject of an 'undercover spy' seeking to document animal abuse on your farm.
Proper care and management of animals on the dairy farm provides more profitability to the producer, and a better image and industry relationship with the consumer.
The tape from Ohio purports to show activity over some time period (up to a month). If that person was there only to protect animals' welfare, the very first incident witnessed should have been reported immediately. Not reporting an incident and then just waiting for the next opportunity to video another incident makes that person just as responsible for the abuse. What is also troubling is what that person is NOT doing as a farm employee while busy undertaking taping opportunities. This is why I suggest your policy includes a statement that expects immediate reporting of any suspected abuse.
All livestock farmers have a stake in how the public believes you care for your animals. You may think everything you do is proper, but consider how a non-farm viewer may perceive what you do on a routine basis. Some practices may need to be changed by the whole industry to maintain a positive public opinion.
It is not enough to say, "We take good care of our animals because they are our livelihood." Some in the general public won't care about your profitability. It is probably more appropriate to say, "We care for our animals because it is the right thing to do."