The 10 Things FARM is Looking Forward to in 2016

We hope you’re ringing in the New Year tonight with family and friends. Here’s what the National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program is looking forward to in 2016.

10. Reaching 100 percent participation (or as close to it as possible): This year, the FARM Program increased participation from 75 percent to almost 94 percent of the milk supply enrolled in the program. In 2016, we’re going to get close to 100 percent, we just know it! From coast to coast, we’ll be able to say that the entire dairy industry has one program for animal care. United we stand.

9. More farmer resources: We know that we’ve focused a lot of the program on getting co-ops and processors the information and training needed to implement FARM. But in 2016, that all changes, as we’re going to focus on our farmers. We’re excited about the new series of webinars and other training modules we’re launching in just a few weeks. Stay tuned!

8. More staff to help answer your questions: We’ve added to our FARM Program team here at NMPF, and in 2016 there will be even more folks on hand to help answer questions. We couldn’t be more jazzed to have extra hands on deck. Just email and we will get back to you quickly!

7. Innovative collaborations with Dairy Management, Inc. & the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy: While we already work very closely together, in 2016 be prepared for even more coordinated messaging and projects connecting animal care, consumer confidence and the FARM Program.

6. More Food Chain Outreach: In 2015 we built relationships with some of the largest restaurants and retailers in the U.S. (and the world!), but we’re not stopping there. In 2016, we’re going to make sure that every retailer, restaurant and food company knows how passionate dairy producers—and the entire dairy community—are about animal care.

5. Better data analysis: Since 2009 (when the FARM Program began), we’ve been collecting data from all of our participating dairy farms—data that tells a great story about how producers care for their animals. In 2016, we’re going to improve how we use this data to share the story of top-notch care on our nation’s dairies through increased analysis and fancy, zippy graphics.

4. Building the FARM Brand: This year we launched our brand new FARM Program website (be sure to bookmark the page so you don’t miss any updates!) and our new FARM Proud blog. In 2016 we’ll continue to push out and drive consumers to our website to learn more about the program and our producers’ commitment to animal care.

3. More Training and Education for Evaluators: Our second-party FARM evaluators are critical to the FARM Program. This year, we’re going to hold at least three trainings for our evaluators — both new and old — to attend, and an end-of-year conference for networking and learning. Be sure to check our training page for updates on these opportunities!

2. Version 3.0 of the FARM Program: Every three years the FARM Program undergoes an intensive update to make sure we’re continuously improving. In 2016 we will roll out Version 3.0 of the program and couldn’t be more excited. If you want to see what changes are being considered, click here.

1. And last, but certainly not least, the number ONE thing we’re looking forward to in 2016 is working with you—our producers, co-ops, second-party evaluators and processors to tell your stories about FARM and animal care. We’ve launched our new TwitterFacebook and Instagram to help amplify your voices on this important subject!

We can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for us at the FARM Program, but by all accounts it is shaping up to be an incredible year. We certainly couldn’t have celebrated the successes we have this year without all of you who help make this program possible, so for that we’d like to raise a glass to you tonight and say a heartfelt thanks!

Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas from the FARM Program!

Christmas is a time to count your blessings and show gratitude for all who have helped and supported you. It’s a time to reflect on the year that has passed – all too quickly – and to enjoy celebrations with family and friends.

The National Dairy FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) Program has celebrated many milestones this year, and we have many, many people to thank for those successes. At Christmas last year, we had barely 75 percent of the milk supply by volume enrolled in the program. Now, just a year later, we have more than 94 percent of the domestic milk supply represented. With the majority of our nation’s dairy farms covered by FARM, we are able to send a very strong message to our customers and consumers: Animal care is a priority that we take seriously, and we’re united in our commitment to ensuring the highest standards of care.

Without the foresight, leadership and dedication of our dairy cooperatives and processors, this high percentage of enrollment would never have been possible. From the early adopters of the program to the recent enrollees—they have all taken on the responsibility of ensuring that their membership and dairy farm suppliers are utilizing the program as a tool for continuous improvement. They’ve hired, trained and re-allocated field men and women to perform the second-party evaluations on their members’ dairies, and have worked hard to enter data into the (often cumbersome) FARM Program database. We wouldn’t be where we are this Christmas, celebrating the success of the program, without you, cooperatives and processors.

Most crucially, however, the FARM Program is grateful to our dairymen and women who get up every day to care for the animals that produce the most nutritious (and delicious) product in the world: milk. The FARM Program was always designed to share the amazing story that farmers have to tell when it comes to animal care. We at the FARM Program have long known that animal care is your utmost priority, but in a world of “trust but verify,” we needed the data and the proof points to assure our customers of that fundamental truth. Now, through your willingness to participate in the program, we can share our dairy community’s story of top-notch animal care far and wide, and we couldn’t be prouder to do so.

As families across America (and around the world!) sit down at their holiday tables, surrounded by family and friends, they have yet another reason to help themselves to another helping of wholesome, delicious dairy: They can be assured that our nation’s dairy cows are happy, healthy and well cared for. We have given our customers and consumers another reason to trust our product and to celebrate the season.

From the FARM Program to our dairy community, we thank you and wish you a joyous holiday season full of festive blessings.

Merry Christmas!

Tail Docking: The Difference a “Switch” Can Make

Jessica Ziehm serves as the Executive Director of the New York Animal Agriculture Coalition, and is wife to one of the partners of Tiashoke Farm, a fourth-generation dairy farm in Buskirk, N.Y., that recently expanded to 1,000 cows. They are members of the Agri-Mark Cooperative and participants in the FARM Program.

We are a dairy farm with tails – the entire tail – switch and all.  But it hasn’t always been this way.  In fact, it was just a couple years ago that we saw the writing on the wall and realized that the contemplation over banning tail docking was an issue that was not going away. And quite frankly, it was a practice that wasn’t going to make us or break us as dairy farmers.  So, I’m here to say that five years after making the conscious decision to leave our tails on our cows, we are still here (knock on wood), in a viable business with a respectable somatic cell count, content employees and fairly clean cows. (They are cows, after all.)  We did it. And it really wasn’t a big deal.  Here’s our story.

Our farm started docking tails in October of 1990. My husband remembers the exact date because it was when my in-laws were on a rare vacation and left their three teenaged sons to run the farm.  They were milking in a 50-cow tie stall barn at the time and took it upon their young selves to initiate the progressive practice of tail docking on a good portion of herd – a practice they had read about in Hoard’s Dairymen and saw firsthand on some 4-H farm tours.  To do so, they banded the cows’ tails and by the time their parents returned, more than half of the cows in the barn had short tails.

After the shock of seeing their newly coifed cows and a lengthy talk around the kitchen table, the action of docking tails made sense to my future in-laws.  Less dirty tails interfering with milkers, less urine soaked switches slapping them in the face on a cold winter morning, and from what they heard but had yet to witness, lower somatic cell counts.  It seemed like a win.

Fast forward to 2011, around the same time the AVMA and the AABP came out and opposed the practice of tail docking, my family took a hard look at the necessity of the practice.  The real benefits of tail docking, the time it takes, public perception and the well-being of our animals, especially our heifers who are on pasture all summer – all of these issues came into play as we debated.   Ultimately, the three brothers decided to stop, but the transition was not cut and dry.

We tried several different methods of trimming switches before finding one that worked for us. We tried using scissors, clippers, and even a cordless drill with a fancy (and expensive) trimmer attachment. None of them worked well, leaving us frustrated with the extra time it took, unsatisfied with the equipment we used and actually caused us to question whether we really wanted to stop docking tails, resulting in us falling off the band wagon a couple of times over the course of a year.  But perseverance paid off and we now feel as though we have a system that we are comfortable with and is effective in allowing our cows to keep their tails, and us to keep our cool.

The method that works for us is just a simple hose cutter that costs under $20. (I think we got ours from our local IBA dealer, but you can also find one like it here). We can easily grab the switch with one hand, and with the other use the hose cutter to trim the switch just below the end of the tailbone. All is takes is one cut and the entire switch is trimmed.  We trim switches once a lactation at the time of freshening, so we aren’t ever trying to do the entire herd all at once.  It’s actually a quicker and more straightforward process than docking tails ever was.

Employee safety is a priority for us, so when we quit docking tails, we started purchasing safety glasses for our workers.  We actually ordered several different styles from Grainger (hereherehere and here) and asked the crew to pick the style they liked best and ordered that style for them. We gave them the choice because we wanted our workers to like them enough to wear the glasses and be comfortable.  The protective eye wear not only protects them from tail switches, but it also shields them from the various soaps and solutions found and used in the milking parlor. The real bonus for us was when we got a gold star during our unannounced OSHA inspection this summer for having safety glasses on all of our guys. (Hey, take the win when you can!)

On the milk side of the equation, we’ve typically maintained a somatic cell count of 180-200,000, even after we started docking tails. As young managers, the three brothers thought there was a direct correlation between tail docking and quality milk.  However, they recognize now that by trimming switches, coupled with other practices on the farm including not over milking the cows, they’ve actually been able to lower their somatic cell count even more, which now runs just under 100,000. Not to mention, the cows are milking out faster too.  The transition to long tails resulted in other gains that we weren’t expecting.

Dirty tails come from dirty stalls.  But lots of other negatives come from dirty stalls too, such as dirty cows, mastitis, high cell counts, and overall, just a negative impact on milk quality. So it is even more important now that our cows have long tails to rake our sand-bedded stalls and scrape our barns during every milking, which is three times a day. We have also learned during this process that by shaping the sand in our stalls, we can help better position our cows in the stall, which helps keep the stalls and the cows cleaner. This results in not only cleaner tails, but a cleaner operation as a whole – which is not a bad image to portray to the public, our milk inspector, our veterinarian and others, including again, that friendly OSHA inspector.

And believe it or not, public perception was another factor we considered.  Perception is reality, unfortunately and we do a handful of tours a year. So, yes, we considered what the public’s image is of dairy farms.  And while, we, as a family, all recognize the benefits not getting slapped in the face with a tail, we also recognize that sole benefit doesn’t outweigh a negative image.  We found that it wasn’t necessary for us to shorten tails to accomplish our larger goals of producing healthy milk and keeping our workers safe.

In fact, during our transition to long tails, we learned a lot about making our farm a better place for not only our cows, but our employees, the quality of our product and our bottom line.  We are proud of our low somatic cell count and improved milking efficiencies. Our cows are just as clean, if not cleaner now with tails. We’ve eliminated one task of docking tails on calves and replaced it with an even easier and quicker task of trimming switches in the parlor, and our workers are safer too.  And lastly and thankfully, we are in compliance with the National FARM program that we support whole heartedly as we work together with our dairy farmer brothers and sisters across the country to assure to the public that we follow the highest standards when it comes to the care of our animals and the quality of our milk.

What a difference a “switch” can make!

Want to learn more about Jessica and her family’s farm? Connect with her on Facebook or via email at 

Fighting the Right Fight

In his December column, NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern discussed how the FARM Program helps farmers handle the demands of the ever-evolving marketplace.

“Helping dairy farmers confront the shifting tide of public opinion on animal care practices is one of the defining challenges faced by NMPF in the 21st century,” Mulhern said. “The roster of standard operating procedures and recommended practices on dairy farms is evolving, which is really nothing new.  What is new is that this evolution is being driven increasingly by both measurable animal welfare outcomes and by societal pressures about what is acceptable, as expressed by the clear and unequivocal expectations of our customers.”

That’s where FARM comes in, he said, to deal with those demands so farmers don’t have to. For the dairy industry, that’s an advantage,

“The consequences of not acting prudently and proactively, but only reactively and defensively, can be seen on an almost daily basis elsewhere in animal agriculture,” he continued. “In the egg industry, the shift to cage-free housing has come rapidly, even in states where there is no legislative mandate. Just last month, Taco Bell joined other fast food restaurants including McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Panera Bread in switching to cage-free. Food marketers across the country are demanding cage-free housing even if lawmakers are not. As a result, essentially all the new hen housing being constructed focuses on open colonies, not cages.

“The same is increasingly true in pork production:  Demands for gestation stall-free farrowing operations are leading to big changes in hog housing, as more and more food companies make such a system the cost of serving the market.”

NMPF has been playing a role in this conversation, as well. The organization’s board of directors voted in October to move up the deadline to end tail docking to January 2017, after which it will no longer be an acceptable practice on farms participating in the FARM Program. Though a controversial decision, Mulhern said, veterinary science simply did support the practice.

“We need to unite around preserving important animal husbandry tools for our herds, such as disbudding, or the therapeutic use of antibiotics, or the use of quality feed ingredients that may have a genetically modified trait,” Mulhern concluded. “Fighting to hold onto practices that aren’t credible or defensible to our consumers will only undermine the rationale and support for our national, science-based, independently verifiable dairy animal care FARM program. It would lead to a confusing hash of marketer- or state-directed demands that only add costs and exacerbate the challenges facing farmers. That’s an outcome we must fight to avoid.”