Retail purchasing behavior is proof that dairy welfare programs are important.
Last year, Purdue University researchers asked 1,000 households about their perceptions and preferences for dairy products and the importance of dairy product attributes. “The attributes ranked the most important by participants were fat content and protein content, followed by ‘produced on farms with animal welfare and handling standards in place,’” says Melissa McKendree, a graduate student in the department of agricultural economics at Purdue.
On-farm dairy welfare evaluations and welfare audits do more than assure customers that your animals are treated humanely. Here’s a look at other benefits that producers have gained from these programs.
How did we overlook that?
Aurora Organic Farms, based out of Platteville, Colo., has been welfare-certified since 2006.
The reason Aurora went through an assessment and auditing program offered by Validus, a third-party auditor, was really quite simple.
“We wanted to verify that what we were currently doing for our cows was right for our cows and our animals,” says Emily Prisco, director of farm resources.
The assessment didn’t reveal any major animal welfare issues, she says, but it did draw attention to some basic things that are easy to overlook during the day-to-day running of a dairy.
One of the areas scored during the initial assessment was the cleanliness of the cows’ water supply. A score of 1 is equivalent to saying you or I would drink out of the trough. A score of 2 means there is room for improvement, and a score of 3 is a red flag — nobody would drink out of that trough.
Aurora originally scored a 2 in water supply cleanliness. It taught them to look closely at the little things and gave them a renewed commitment to monitoring for opportunities in easy-to-overlook areas.
Something like this isn’t that difficult to correct, and the end result is a reflection of your commitment to animal care.
“We went from having 2’s to having 1’s,” Prisco says. “It’s just a really good process to go through to verify you really are doing what’s right for the animals.”
Put those SOPs in writing
About a year ago, Jim Reid of Jeddo, Mich., went through the National Dairy FARM Animal Care ProgramTM. FARM is a voluntary program managed by the National Milk Producers Federation.
Member representatives from Reid’s cooperative, Michigan Milk Producers Association, came out to the farm to do the evaluation. During the evaluation, they went over a checklist with Reid. It opened his eyes to the importance of keeping written standard operating procedures — a practice often talked about, but not always implemented.