New FARM Animal Care Standards: Annual training for specialized jobs

By Dr. Michael Payne, UC Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine and Director, CDQAP

Every three years,vto reflect evolving practices and science, the National Dairy FARM Animal Care Program is updated. The program checks in with California producers (via local cooperative/processor staff), opening discussions on how to maximize comfort and continually improve on-farm animal care.

While this version’s of FARM standards contains a number of changes, most will have little impact on our state’s producers. New standards prohibit tail docking, a practice that was banned in California in 2010. Similarly, the new requirement for exercise of “all age classes” does not apply to hutch calves that can stand up, turn around, and lay down in their hutches.

For many California producers, the biggest change will be the phasing in of pain management for cautery or paste disbudding. Covered in CDQAP’s February newsletter, producers will have up to three years, depending on their milk marketer, to develop a program with their veterinarian, which could include either nerve blocks or pain medications.

Finally, the previous standards that required annual training for employees have been expanded to include family/owner staff as well. Regardless of whether they are family or non-family, employees working in different care areas should have annual training/continuing education specific for those activities. These areas include moving animals (stockmanship), calf care, handling non-ambulatory cows, euthanasia, and fitness for culling transport.

Strictly from a return-on-investment standpoint, a regular refocus and retraining on animal comfort is warranted. University research suggests “rough handling” (handling animals that raises their stress level) can result in a measurable decrease in milk production, increased retained milk, and decreased conception.

A fact sheet provided by the FARM Program describes the multiple ways training can be accomplished. Producers can decide how and when the annual discussion and training will take place. Options include employees watching online videos, reviewing printed materials or posters, direct training from the herd veterinarian or extension specialist, attending continuing education meetings, or even simply shadowing experienced workers. Many training resources are available on the FARM Program Resource Library, a webpage which allows you to select not only the topic but also the format of the training materials, such as posters or videos.

Annual FARM Training Requirement

Stockmanship – All employees with hands-on animal care responsibilities must have documentation of animal movement training. For many farms, the most efficient way to meet the requirement is to have employees view the FARM program’s livestock handling videos in either English or Spanish All eight short videos have also been collected into a single 27-minute video entitled Dairy Stockmanship. Alltech® has also produced a poster on the 5 Simple Rules for Moving Cattle in both English or Spanish. CDQAP has also collected a variety of training resources on its webpage, How stockmanship training for employees can improve your bottom line.

Calf Care – There is a rich selection of print and video training materials available for employees providing calf care. Many are available in both English and Spanish and have been collected by the FARM program on its Animal Care Training Resources webpage. Two videos focusing on calf care can also be accessed from Merck’s Dairy Care365 program.

Non-Ambulatory Cows – Quick, effective action for non-ambulatory cattle is essential since every hour an adult cow remains down on a hard surface dramatically reduces her chances of recovery. Specialized training is required for employees caring for down cows. A colorful, employee-friendly poster describing care for the non-ambulatory cow is available from UCD in both English and Spanish. A similar poster is available from the FARM Program. Additional information with pictures illustrating how to move down animals is found in Chapter 8 of the FARM Reference Manual. A video introducing both producers and employees to the prevention and care of non-ambulatory cows has been produced by Colorado State University, available in both English and in Spanish.

Euthanasia – The tools used to humanely end suffering, such as firearm and captive bolt, are inherently dangerous to the employees using them. This liability dictates that on-farm euthanasia should be performed only by the most senior and experienced employees. Comprehensive information on euthanasia is found in Chapter 9 of the FARM Reference Manual. The FARM program has also created a poster decision-tree for cow euthanasia in both English and Spanish. The University of California has produced a very simple pocket guide covering field euthanasia and market cow transport in both English and Spanish. CDQAP has produced a dairy euthanasia SOP template.

Culling Transport – A cow that is refused at the sale barn or slaughter facility will ultimately cost the producer more money than on-farm euthanasia and disposal. Employees making culling decisions need to be confident that a cull cow being shipped will arrive standing and will not be rejected for fever or residues. Comprehensive information can be found in Chapter 10 of the FARM Reference Manual. A simple colorful, employee-friendly poster describing a Cull Cow Transport Checklist is available from UCD in both English and Spanish. A similar detailed poster is also available from the FARM
program in both English and Spanish.