Veterinarians and producers can benefit from developing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the farm or ranch team. However, the SOPs should be worded and implemented with the right goals in mind and should allow appropriate flexibility, says Kansas Veterinarian Nels Lindberg.

Lindberg, who owns Animal Medical Center in Great Bend, Kansas and is a partner in Production Animal Consultants, spoke about SOPs in cattle operations during last week’s Academy of Veterinary Consultants conference. He says SOPs can be especially useful for employee training, assessment and legal purposes. He listed several types of SOPs that might be necessary for operations to have on file, including:

  • Those required by packers or other customers.
  • Those for safety in the feed mill and other areas, including lock-out, tag-out and shut-down procedures.
  • Humane euthanasia.
  • Health protocols.
  • Emergency response such as in the case of tornado, blizzard or heat-stress event.

While SOPs can help guide employee training, Lindberg cautions against training entirely based on SOPs. Train employees to do the job, he says, likening training to SOPs to school teachers focusing on teaching for standardized tests.

He also notes that once SOPs are written, you have an obligation to follow them, and depending on how they are written, could have unintended consequence. These could include:

  • Increased labor, especially if the SOPs are too descriptive and detailed.
  • Poor compliance if they create too much difficulty. A goal is to build integrity, he says, not create reasons for poor integrity.
  • Procedures could have negative effects at certain times, under certain conditions or due to variability in animals. A set of SOPs for dealing with cold stress, for example, needs to account for breed differences, with different treatment required for southern cattle or thin-skinned Holsteins versus more acclimated northern breed types.

Lindberg suggests asking yourself three things when developing SOPs:

  • Does it allow us to do the right things for animals?
  • Does it improve or not improve a culture for high integrity across the operation?
  • Does it increase labor requirements and by how much?

In using SOPs, he says, we need them to:

  • Help us do the right things for animals.
  • Help us create healthy outcomes.
  • Help caregivers and team members improve their job satisfaction.
  • Avoid creating loss of integrity.