A group of dairy veterinarians from across the United States gathered Sept. 8 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Dairy Research Center to learn about their role in conducting on-farm dairy well-being assessments and preparing clients for on-farm audits. The event was a pre-session of the 42nd annual Conference of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners, Sept.10-12, at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb.

 Jim Reynolds of UC Davis

This seminar provided participants with the tools, benchmarks and check lists needed to perform comprehensive educational assessments to improve animal well-being and prepare for on-farm verification at some point in the future.

“Within the next five years, dairy farmers should probably expect to be audited,” said Jim Reynolds, DVM, University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, who spoke at the seminar. “It’s important to remind ourselves of our responsibility as the advocates of animals and prepare our clients.”

The day-long session included an overview of the new National Dairy FARM Program: Farmers Assuring Responsible Management, an on-farm quality assurance program that will formally launch Oct. 1 at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis. Jamie Jonker, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the National Milk Producers Federation, unveiled key components of the voluntary, nationwide program designed to bring consistency and uniformity to animal care through education, on-farm evaluations and objective third-party verification.

“Consumers are being bombarded by lots of information, and frankly some misinformation, about what happens on dairy farms,” Jonker said. “The National Dairy FARM Program provides a platform to build a consistent message about the great things that dairy farmers do every day when it comes to animal care and assure consumers that the dairy products they consume are safe, wholesome and nutritious.”

Sandy Goff, dairy program manager
with Validus

At the heart of the program is an animal care manual, which details best management practices for a variety of issues, including animal health, facilities and housing, animal nutrition, equipment and milking procedures, and transportation and handling. The content of the manual is consistent with the principles and guidelines of the National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative, which was introduced in 2008. 

The animal-care component is the first of many that will be developed as part of the new quality-assurance effort, said Jonker. On-farm evaluations begin in 2010, followed by third-party verification in 2011.

Other presenters at the pre-seminar included Jan Shearer, professor and extension veterinarian at Iowa State University, and Sandy Goff, dairy program manager with Validus, who provided a history of animal welfare, and an overview of assessment procedures, benchmarks and checklists. Topics included housing, downer cows, euthanasia, lameness, special needs animals, biosecurity and handling.

Following morning discussion, Reynolds and Goff led the group of veterinarians in an assessment exercise at the UNL 140-cow dairy farm near Mead.

Jamie Jonker (left) of the National Milk Producers Federation and Jan Shearer of Iowa State University discuss dairy cow welfare observation during the AABP pre-session on welfare at the University of Nebraska Dairy Farm in Mead, Nebraska.