ST. PAUL, Minn. — There was a time in our nation’s history when many people lived on a farm or had close relatives who owned a farm. Most consumers today have no direct relationship to livestock producers. Many have a close relationship with their pets and love animals, so they want to know how animals are cared for on the farm. There is a need to assure them that producers care for their animals.

There have been various recent examples of undercover footage of dairy animal abuse appearing in the news, such as on ABC's Nightline and an animal rights organization’s video depicting poor welfare conditions at a Pennsylvania dairy farm. These are extreme cases—definitely not the norm. Consumers can get influenced by this negative propaganda about the dairy industry.

The industry is taking a proactive approach to demonstrate to consumers that producers are committed to providing the best care possible. In October 2009, the National Milk Producers Federation and Dairy Management Inc. announced the National Dairy FARM program. FARM stands for Farmers Assuring Responsible Management. The program focuses on animal care and is available to all producers.

The National Dairy FARM program aims to provide consistency and uniformity across states. It includes an educational program for producers so they can conduct self assessments, on-farm evaluations by a second party (veterinarian, field coop personnel, Extension educator), and third-party verification by an independent company. Training programs and other logistics are currently being developed. Guidelines for various aspects of dairy animal care are summarized in the FARM program’s Animal Care Quick Reference Guide and are more detailed in the Animal Care Manual.

For more information and to download materials, visit FARM’s website at University of Minnesota Extension plans to deliver educational seminars about FARM as the program develops, and I will coordinate the program. Dairy producers can contact me at with questions about FARM. For useful educational information on other dairy production topics, check the Extension dairy website at

I encourage producers to participate in the FARM program because of its potential positive impacts on consumer perception. Each farm should also develop its own policies for animal care and handling, and hold employees accountable for any misconduct. Most dairy farms that I have worked with in Minnesota have employee accountability policies in place.

Producers could also develop a security plan and know who is visiting the dairy, have a trained media spokesperson, and tell their story to consumers via websites, social media and farm tours. Consumers need to know that producers take good care of their animals.

Source: Marcia Endres is an animal scientist with University of Minnesota Extension.