Westby Creamery Keeping Cows Happy with FARM Program
Jan 06, 2020 (Westby, WI)
Now more than ever, consumers want to know their food is ethically sourced. From how production impacts the environment, to how the animals are cared for, Westby Cooperative Creamery is committed to delivering safe quality food in a way that instills consumer confidence. Much like using the phrase “all-natural,” a vagueness can encompass the idea of “happy cows.” To what standard is an organization ensuring herd happiness? Westby Creamery confirms that its farmers care for their animals in a humane manner through the National Dairy FARM Program certification.
The National Dairy FARM Program creates accountability through on-farm, second-party evaluations. Farmers who sign a pledge of participation are subject to random third-party evaluations as well. At Westby, the FARM Program Coordinator is Gail Klinkner, a third-generation dairy farmer, and she loves her job.
“I enjoy talking with farmers about their dairy and seeing them light up as they speak about the compassion they have for their cattle. One of the things that I have learned in my position is that our farmers all have the same goal: to provide a high-quality product and hopefully make a living doing it,” Klinkner said.
Klinkner’s process for inspecting a farm starts with pre-evaluation paperwork. The farmer must create a written Herd Health Plan for their dairy and meet with their herd veterinarian, who reviews the plan and signs a Vet/Client Patient Relationship (VCPR) form. This form states that the veterinarian is aware of the current animal care protocols on the dairy. When the forms are complete, Klinkner schedules a time to inspect the farm and perform the following tasks:
- Have the farmer sign the FARM Program Pledge of Participation
- Review the Written Herd Health Plan
- Discuss the dairy operation and the animal protocols/practices
- Verify the VCPR is signed by the veterinarian
- Perform an evaluation of the animals based on hygiene, body condition, locomotion, and hock and knee lesions. See FARM Program animal standards below for detail on this process.
Once the animals have been evaluated, Klinkner moves on to inspect the facility. It is during this time she looks for clean and sufficient access to water; proper amounts of feed; proper ventilation; appropriate bedding; and overall cleanliness. Klinkner also confirms that animals have free access to pasture, which is a Westby Creamery standard.
Although Klinkner is there to evaluate the dairy and educate its owners about best practices, she has had moments when she’s learned something new, especially about organic farming. “A prime example of this is what pain mitigation is acceptable within the Organic standards,” she said. “I’ve shared which tinctures and treatments have been successful on other dairies and who to contact to get them.” In this light, Klinkner becomes a liaison between dairies for sharing important information and resources.
Once the evaluation is complete Klinkner will point out opportunities for continuous improvement. For example, the farmer might be disbudding/dehorning animals by four months of age, but a better option would be to do so by eight weeks of age, per the FARM Program standard. Klinkner will discuss changing this practice with the farmer and set a timeline to complete the change. A continuous improvement plan moves a farmer toward best practices, per the standard. These standards evolve with dairy welfare research and are revised every three years.
A farm needing a mandatory corrective action plan has a much shorter timeline for completion and might include something like: The farmer has an outdated signature on her VCPR. The FARM Program states that the VCPR and Herd Health Plan needs to be updated annually. Klinkner will ask when the farmer expects to complete this and then circle back within to verify that it has been done within the designated timeline.
Being evaluated in any capacity can be intimidating, and that’s part of why Klinkner took the position. “I felt that I could provide a farmer’s perspective in implementing a program that some farmers are hesitant to implement on their dairy,” she said.
These detailed evaluations (and improvement plans) are how the FARM Program moves participating organizations to science-based best practices while verifying high animal care standards. The integrity of the program is further ensured with third-party evaluations. This means that at any given time, a farm Klinkner inspected can be inspected again by someone sent from the FARM Program. This has happened three times on Westby farms.
“The FARM Program is, in part, a way to reassure the consumer that we are taking care of our animals with the most ethical practices possible. I want to help tell the Westby Cooperative Creamery story and the dairy farm family stories,” Klinkner said.
To learn more, visit the National Dairy FARM Program website.
FARM Program Animal Standards
Hygiene is scored on a 1 to 4 scale with 1 being “clean” and 4 representing manure splatters on the udder/belly area moving toward the top of the cow. The goal in the hygiene category is to have 90 percent or more of the animals score a 2 or less on the FARM Program hygiene scorecard.
Body condition in a cow refers to weight or body mass. This is scored on a 1 to 6 scale with 1 being a gaunt animal having no fatty tissue around the tail head or short rib region. Think of looking at the cow from behind as if you’re a car coming upon another car from behind. A 6 means the animal has a thick layer of fatty tissue around her tail head and short rib region. The FARM Program goal is to have 99 percent of the herd score 2 or higher on the body condition score scale.
Locomotion, or how an animal moves, is scored on a 1 to 3 scale with 1 being “sound.” A cow scoring a 1 would have normal posture and a normal gait. “Severe lameness” would be a 3 and means the cow would be unable to move or barely able to bear weight on the affected limb. Other negative symptoms of a 3 can include a back arch, poor body condition, head bob or inability to flex the lower leg joints.
Hock and knee lesions
A cow hock is the joint corresponding anatomically to the ankle in a human and can be found on the hind legs of the animal. The knee joint in a cow refers to the same place on the front legs. The FARM Program hock and knee lesion scorecard sets a goal of 95 percent of the herd scoring a 2 or less on a scale of 1 to 3. A 1 indicates minimal hair loss or swelling on the hock and hair loss on the front of the knees less than the size of a quarter. On the contrary, a 3 means visible swelling and/or abrasions on the hock and swelling in either knee with hair loss being larger than a quarter.