New FARM for 2020by Sally Colby

Most dairy farmers are familiar with the FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program, but may not be aware of upcoming changes. Emily Yeiser Stepp, senior director for the National Dairy FARM program, recently discussed changes in the program and said the 2020 version of FARM is now in effect.

Stepp explained that the FARM program has been in place for 10 years, and the goal today is the same as it was in the beginning: to assure customers and consumers that dairy farmers care for their animals, their workforce and their land in a humane and ethical manner. FARM 4.0, the latest version, is the result of input from farmers, veterinarians, dairy industry leaders and animal welfare experts.

The FARM program is updated and revised every three years by industry experts including farmers, animal scientists, vets and co-op staff. Stepp said the revision process takes 16 to 18 months because there is significant governance and input before any final recommendations, and final approvals are made by the National Milk Board.

FARM started as a voluntary program from 2009 to 2012. Version 2.0 was in effect between 2013 and 2016, and was mandatory but with voluntary action plans. Version 2.0 also marked the beginning of phasing out tail docking. Version 3.0, in effect from 2017 to 2019, included greater accountability, mandatory corrective action, training plans, VCPRs (veterinary-client-patient relationships) and more emphasis on eliminating tail docking.

During Version 3.0, 78% of herds achieved valid VCPRs, 90% of herds conducted some kind of annual employee training, 99% of herds are no longer tail docking and 80% of herds have protocols for calves, non-ambulatory animals and euthanasia. Herds that did not meet these standards at the time of an evaluation resolved issues within 6.5 months or less.

“Version 4.0 includes increased accountability, immediate actions, shortened timelines and implementation oversight,” said Stepp. “We function within three-year program cycles. Version 4.0 will run to the end of 2022. A cornerstone of the program is the relationship with the veterinary community. The valid VCPR and review of the herd health plan is a standard that has been constant and also continues to demonstrate value not only to the producer level but throughout the supply chain.”

Stepp said while it would be nice if FARM was the silver bullet that would solve all problems, it has specific goals. The basic concept of FARM is to create a framework and foundation for on-farm animal care, a culture of continuous improvement and provide a snapshot of farm management practices that requires producer monitoring, oversight and active on-farm participation.

“At the core level, we require a minimum evaluation of once every three years,” said Stepp. “That means that the more than 1,000 other days there isn’t necessarily a FARM evaluator there on site. What it doesn’t do is potentially show a full picture, and certainly doesn’t ensure that a culture is followed and definitely doesn’t replace active participation of producers, employees and everyone engaged with animal care responsibilities for ensuring that culture. It does require that continuous producer monitoring oversight and active on-farm participation.”

Pre-weaned calf practices in Version 4.0 include disbudding prior to eight weeks of age, and access to feed and water by day three of age. Protocols for pre-weaned calves also include how calves are moved and how colostrum, milk/milk replacer, feed and water are provided.

Non-ambulatory practices include providing prompt care and moving animals using proper methods. Non-ambulatory animals must be provided with access to feed, water, shelter (from heat/cold), isolation from ambulatory animals and protection from predators. Animals being transported must be fit for travel. Euthanasia techniques must follow approved methods as outlined by AABP and/or VMA, and carcass disposal must be conducted in an appropriate manner.

Version 4.0 requires a signed cow care agreement for non-family employees who are responsible for animal care. On-farm continuing education is required, with specific training for those working with pre-weaned calves, non-ambulatory animals, euthanasia and determining animals’ fitness for transportation.

Part of the FARM program includes a Continuous Improvement Plan (CIP), which requires action to meet standards within three years or less. Benchmarks such as body condition score, hock scores, knee scores, locomotion and broken tails are assessed. Also included in the CIP is pain management and protocol for disbudding, and requires the use of pain mitigation for any disbudding method.

“In Version 3.0, we said that pain management for disbudding is per vet recommendations,” said Stepp. “If your herd vet says you don’t need to use pain management, that would satisfy the standard.” Herd managers will work with their herd veterinarian to develop disbudding practices, and have a plan in place by the next evaluation – in three years or less.

Stepp said the tail docking standard is one area that will require immediate action. “If any dairy is continuing to tail dock at the time of evaluation, it will trigger an immediate action and will need to be resolved within 48 hours,” she said. “There will be mandatory follow-up by the evaluator at a week, a month and three months to ensure that the practice has been stopped.”

An important aspect of FARM is increased evaluator accountability. Evaluators will have higher requirements and training, and both evaluators and trainers will be shadowed to ensure they are performing their jobs properly. During the evaluator segment of the FARM revision process, planners for 4.0 looked at areas such as how to increase the value of the evaluator and how to ensure evaluators have cow sense, people sense, common sense and FARM sense.

Stepp said the bigger goals for 2020 and beyond include fostering relationships with allied industries (pharmaceutical, animal health, equipment manufacturers, trade associations and trade media) and maintaining a strong relationship with the veterinary community.

While FARM is designed primarily for the dairy industry, the program isn’t limited to dairy products. “Because the dairy industry is also beef producers, we have formal collaborative partnerships with BQA and NCBA,” said Stepp. “For those who need BQA certification, FARM 3.0 or later evaluations conducted on your facility provide the equivalent of the BQA program.”

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