Program cites ‘continuous improvement’ in dairy animal care

Dairy Program: The FARM Animal Care program provides quality assurance on dairy cattle welfare across the nation. Learn what’s new in the program’s latest version, to be released July 1.

May 14, 2024

2 Min Read
Holstein dairy cows at feed bunk
FARM PROGRAM UPDATE: The process of revising the FARM Animal Care program from Version 4 to Version 5 took place over two-and-a-half years. More than 85 dairy farmers were involved. FARM PROGRESS

by Jennifer Van Os

The Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Animal Care program provides nationwide quality assurance on dairy cattle welfare. Today, over 99% of U.S. dairy farms participate in the program, demonstrating to everyone in the supply chain a serious commitment to high-quality animal care. The program includes a publicly available set of standards or expectations, accompanied by in-person evaluations of each farm at least every three years.

One of the program’s mottos is “continuous improvement.” This refers to a goal for continuous improvement on individual farms and to elevate the entire dairy industry. The motto also applies to the program itself, which is revised every three years to make sure it is up to date. The latest version of the program, Version 5, will go into effect July 1.

The process of revising the FARM Animal Care program from the previous version took place over two-and-a-half years. More than 85 dairy farmers were involved in-depth, along with dairy cooperative and processor staff, bovine veterinarians, and animal welfare scientists. Several virtual town hall meetings and a public open comment period were held. The decision-making included weighing both scientific evidence and practical realities that U.S. dairy farms face.

Ultimately, Version 5 reflects refinements to the program, not major overhauls or additions. The main refinements are:

Calf management for colostrum and disbudding. Clarifications were made to the definitions of appropriate timeliness, quantity and quality of colostrum.

For disbudding of calves, the pain management requirement must now be met within nine months of an on-farm evaluation. Previously, this expectation needed to be met within three years of evaluation. In addition, clarification was added that the acceptable methods of disbudding are either cautery (hot iron) or caustic paste.

Euthanasia. Clarifications were added that the euthanasia protocol should include a method for confirming death, and that trained primary and secondary individuals responsible for euthanasia should be identified.

Continuing education. There was an existing expectation that continuing education relating to specific animal-care responsibilities should be documented on an annual basis. Previously, the expectations for family members needed to be met within three years of on-farm evaluation. This standard now needs to be met within nine months, just like for hired employees.

Animal observation benchmarks for lameness and support. A new benchmark was established with a goal of no more than 15% moderately lame adult cows in a herd. The existing benchmark with a goal of no more than 5% severely lame cows will remain.

A new internal process was established to support farms that significantly exceed benchmarks for animal-based welfare indicators — for example, the prevalence of severely lame cows.

Van Os is an assistant professor and Extension specialist in animal welfare in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences.

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