As animal welfare evaluations become standard practice in the dairy industry, don’t overlook your veterinarian to provide help in meeting those requirements.

hat advice comes from dairy veterinarian John Champagne, DVM, who has performed nearly 60 animal welfare assessments on California dairies as a second-party evaluator under the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program.

Champagne is also a dairy production medicine clinician with the Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center (VMTRC) near Tulare, Calif, affiliated with the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Champagne encourages dairy farmers to take a closer look at FARM guidelines because the program recently updated its animal care standards to Version 3.0. Evaluations with the new version to begin in January 2017.

Version 3.0 is more outcome driven, stressing greater accountability among program participants. Before, Champagne says, there was no negative outcome if a dairy did not meet FARM guidelines. That’s changed now with the program’s “Mandatory Corrective Action Plan” and “Continuous Improvement Plan.”

“With the revised program, farmers will have to show how they will address any problems and the time frame in which they’ll do it,” Champagne says.

Among Version 3.0’s Phase One Priority Areas is a required “Veterinarian Client Patient Relationship” (VCPR). A VCPR form must be signed annually by the farm owner or manager and the veterinarian of record.

FARM leaders believe having an established VCPR and a signed form helps the dairy industry bolster its arguments against further regulation of drug use on dairy farms.

“Veterinarians can help farmers write the protocols and standard operating procedures that must be developed and facilitated,” Champagne explains. “They’ll be especially valuable in helping oversee the responsible use of antibiotics.”

Another Phase One Priority is a “Dairy Cattle Care Ethics and Training Agreement,” an area where veterinarians can provide training for employees with animal care responsibilities. FARM’s Version 3.0 also includes a ban on tail-docking.

The updated FARM assessment will no longer include hygiene scores as one of the four observations required. Scoring for hock and knee lesions, lameness and body condition will remain part of the assessment.

More reliance on technology

With Version 3.0, second-party FARM evaluators like Champagne will increasingly rely on their smartphones and tablets to record their assessments at dairies. They’ll be able to enter their observations into FARM’s new electronic database using a mobile app.

Whichever way they record evaluations, Champagne says dairy-FARM assessments are most successful when:

  1. Dairy evaluators and farmers establish clear communication, preparation and expectations before the site visit.
  2. All participants have positive attitudes. It also helps when both are punctual and prepared.
  3. The follow-up is seen as an opportunity important to the process.

“The FARM assessments support and facilitate dairies’ progressive improvement,” Champagne says. “They’re about asking if we’re doing what’s best for the animals and if we can do better.”

Updated every three years, the FARM Program is designed to assure consumers that dairy cows are well cared for on U.S. farms.