This post was written by Marie Goedert, a dairy farmer in Fort Morgan, Colo.
June 6, 2015, was one of the hardest days of our lives. That was the day we were notified that our farm was under investigation for animal abuse, based on video footage of a few of our workers taken by an undercover Mercy for Animals activist who was employed at our dairy.
While we had already terminated the employees in question prior to any knowledge of the video, we decided to take this whole situation as a learning experience to improve our on-farm practices.
As we have grown our dairy from a 300-cow herd to a 2,500-cow operation, animal care has always been a priority since the beginning. What we quickly learned during this situation, however, was that we failed in keeping proper documentation. For example, we didn’t have anything verifying our trainings or employee agreements. Now, we keep records of everything and make sure they are readily available.
After the video incident, we started learning more about the tools and resources available to us through the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program. We worked with our cooperative field representative and staff from the FARM Program to create an improvement plan for our dairy. We had all of our employees sign cow care agreements. But it wasn’t just about getting their signatures; it was more about sitting down and making sure they understood our farm values and expectations around animal care.
For as long as this farm has existed, we have never allowed our employees to hit our cows. We trusted the people who worked here. We told all of our employees that animal abuse wasn’t tolerated on our farm, but I think we took for granted that they really heard what we were saying. Now, we’ve made it a priority that employees not only know our policies, but understand why they are in place.
The situation taught us that these expectations of animal care aren’t just something about which you train employees when they’re first hired, but something that needs to be communicated frequently to reinforce the concepts — and to continue to do things better on our dairy every day.
It’s also important that our employees realize they are our eyes and ears. If anything is happening that goes against our policies or endangers our animals, it’s their obligation to report it to us. Along with new trainings to keep our employees informed, we have posted signage around the dairy to remind our employees that if they see something, they need to say something.
The FARM Program helped us get through one of the most challenging times we’ve ever experienced on our farm, but we can say we’re a better operation now than we’ve ever been. This situation was a wake-up call for us and our employees. Now, continuous improvement — a principle of FARM — is something we work at every day. Our values and commitment to animal care hasn’t changed, but how we communicate and safeguard that commitment has.
(Photos courtesy of Marie Goedert)