Dairy farmers nationwide continue to demonstrate widespread adoption of industry standards that assure high-quality care for their animals, according to a report from the National Milk Producers Federation.
The summary report, issued annually, quantifies practices by farmers participating in the industry's responsible care program, known as the National Dairy FARM Program (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management).
"The latest report shows dairy farmers continue to demonstrate their extensive commitment to the well-being of the animals in their care through adherence to the standards in the FARM program," said Jamie Jonker, NMPF's vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.
The report quantifies the results of more than 12,000 dairy farm evaluations conducted during the previous three years. All the data collected by second-party evaluators who visit each of those farms is catalogued, and provides a baseline of the breadth of adoption of the program's care practices.
For example, the report found nearly 95% of farms enrolled in the program train their employees to properly move animals that cannot walk, and more than 98% train employees to handle calves with a minimum of stress.
Other findings included:
• 99% of farms observe animals daily to identify health issues for early treatment;
• 93% develop protocols with veterinarians for dealing with common diseases, calving and animals with special needs;
• 92% train workers to recognize the need for animals to be euthanized.
At the same time, the report found some areas still need improvement. For example, 84% of farms in the program have a valid veterinarian-client relationship, and 84% also conduct annual training in animal care for employees.
However, both of these areas have shown an increase in industry adoption, up from 80% and 83%, respectively, since the first annual report two years ago.
Overall, according to the report, participation in the FARM Program increased to more than three-quarters of the nation's milk supply, up five percentage points from the previous year.
How the FARM Program works
Available to all U.S. dairy farmers in the United States, the FARM program is now in its fifth year. It is a voluntary, national set of guidelines designed to demonstrate farmers' commitment to outstanding animal care and a quality milk supply. Cooperatives, milk processors, and individual producers use the program to assure consumers that the dairy foods they purchase are produced with integrity.
Participants are given training materials and are evaluated by a veterinarian or another trained professional. Evaluators provide a status report and, if necessary, recommend areas for improvement.
Each year, a nationwide sample of dairy farms in the program is randomly selected for visits from third-party "verifiers" to assure that the observations recorded by veterinarians are valid.
A certified auditing company, Validus, conducts the third-party verification process.
The third annual verification of the FARM program reflects adoption of select practices as of December 2013. As of October 2014, more than 60 cooperatives and milk processors participate in the program, as well as dozens of individual dairy producers.