FARM Program Updates Animal Care Requirements

Willow Valley Dairy ( Wyatt Bechtel )

The National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program provides a framework for on-farm animal care for 98% of the U.S. domestic milk supply. Now, it is incorporating tighter animal care benchmarks.

Changes include eliminating tail docking, requiring disbudding pain management and providing drug treatment records for veterinarians, said Emily Yeiser Stepp, Farm Program senior director, in a webinar hosted by the Dairy Girl Exchange Network Oct. 25.

“The general themes have remained the same and truly have remained the same from the origination of the program,” Stepp said of the changes finalized in June.

Although dairies were previously required to seek veterinarian advice for disbudding pain management, now pain management is a requirement for all farms.

Employee training will also become required for family employees, while previously it was required for non-family employees. Broken tails will be added to the list of animal observation criteria in addition to body condition score, hock and knee, and locomotion.

While the Mandatory Corrective Actions period has been shortened from 12 months to nine months, dairies will still be given opportunity to improve.

“Let’s say the benchmark is 95% of animals need a two or lower locomotion score, and your herd is at 90%,” Stepp said. “The next time the evaluator comes out and scores animals, it goes to 90%. You’re not meeting the benchmark, but you’ve shown continuous improvement. So that improvement plan would be resolved and anew one would be initiated.”

Tail docking is on a shorter timeline than other practices and must be stopped within 48 hours after inspection. Mandatory evaluator follow-ups will occur at a week, a month and three months after the initial tail docking observation.

The FARM changes are now the fourth incremental change in animal welfare policies, which Stepp said have been guided by farmer feedback.

“Over 75% of the comments we received are either directly from producers themselves or from those organizations representing producers,” Stepp said of the open comment period during the most recent policy revision.

While FARM provides animal care assurance to large dairy buyers such as Walmart, Amazon, Starbucks and Whole Foods, it is largely dairy farmer-governed. Sixty percent of the fifty-two member board are active dairy farmers.

Amidst changes, general animal care principles remain constant.

“A cornerstone of the program is the relationship with the veterinarian community,” Stepp said of requirements such as VCPR and herd health plans. “Additionally, the areas of pre-weaned calves, non-ambulatory practices and euthanasia practices, those pieces were focus areas in version 3.0, and what we’ve done is just elevate them to an additional level of focus.”

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