The Importance of a Good Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship

This piece was originally written for the American Association of Bovine Practitoners.

There has been much talk with the anticipated rollout of the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program, about the increased importance of the veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR). While the perception may be that the VCPR is receiving new attention from the FARM Program, the truth is that the critical relationship between a producer and their veterinarian has always been highlighted as one of the most important tenants of FARM.

Since the Program began in 2009, the VCPR has been the first question asked during the FARM Program Second-Party Evaluations, highlighting just how critical this relationship is. The Program looks for producers to have “evidence” of a valid VCPR and often seek out the name and information for their Veterinarian of Record. Our FARM Animal Care Manual states: “A robust and intimate relationship with the farm’s veterinarian is crucial to safeguarding animal care.”

In the next version of the FARM Program, Version 3.0 which is due out January 1, 2017, the requirement will be that producers and their Veterinarians of records sign a VCPR form annually, or more often as needed. It has been a slow build to this point, but all of our technical advisors who help write the Program felt it was crucial to have a VCPR relationship be one that is documented and formally affirmed. The FARM Program is creating sample form for producers to utilize to meet this new guideline, which will be available on the National Dairy FARM Program website.

Beyond a Veterinarian of Records’ signature on the official VCPR form, however, the FARM Program will continue to look to veterinarians to provide more comprehensive and exhaustive services to help producers in meeting the new guidelines of FARM, and in ensuring the best animal care is provided on their dairies overall.

Specifically, the FARM Program requires written protocols on a number of critical animal care topics including pain management, euthanasia, calf care and non-ambulatory cow movement/management. Writing out these protocols—and training to them—can be a task that is done in partnership with a farm’s veterinarian. Producers will need the valuable perspectives on animal health and welfare that veterinarians have to help shape, and make stronger, these critical farm management protocols.

Beyond having in place strong, written protocols, producers will also be looking for experts to help provide training, or insights into how to conduct proper training, to make sure such protocols are followed. This is also an excellent, and much needed, role that the veterinarian can help play. Providing trainings for producers and their employees on key animal health and wellbeing topics will help to ensure that all producers are up to speed on the most relevant best management practices while also helping them meet a new FARM Program requirement: having all employees with animal care responsibilities trained in basic stockmanship as well as their assigned area of responsibility.

To the FARM Program, the VCPR goes so much further than the piece of paper with the required signatures. A familiar, collaborative and cohesive relationship between a farm owner/manager that their veterinarian of record is key to ensuring that animals on dairies nationwide remain healthy and well-cared for. Moreover, a good VCPR will ensure that producers are able to meet the latest requirements of FARM with ease. It is our hope that veterinarians will look comprehensively at the needs to dairies—beyond the prescription pad—to really help ensure that farmers are assuring responsible management in all aspects of herd health and animal care.

To learn more about the changes in the next version of the FARM Program, review sample protocols and the VCPR form, visit the FARM Program website at or contact

Consumers Care About Animal Care; Show Them You Do Too

This article originally appeared in the Farm Credit East 2016 Insights and Perspectives report. It was written by Jamie Jonker, vice president of sustainability & scientific affairs, at the National Milk Producers Federation.

“This farm is my business and none of yours!” It’s not hard to imagine hearing that response from a farmer a generation or two ago if a consumer asked about animal care on their farm. Some might even think this is an appropriate attitude today. However, expectations of customers and consumers have moved beyond merely trusting that a farmer is caring for animals properly, to asking for more transparency about production practices and demanding changes in some of those practices.

The roster of standard operating procedures and recommended practices on livestock and poultry farms is evolving, which is really nothing new. What is new is that this evolution is increasingly driven 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. The trust previously granted to farmers has been eroded, in part, by a continued barrage of coordinated campaigns promulgated by animal rights groups. In one recent study, more than half the respondents strongly agreed with the statement, “If farm animals are treated decently and humanely, I have no problem consuming meat, milk and eggs.” However, only one in four agreed that, “U.S. meat is derived from humanely treated animals.”

The consequences of not acting prudently and proactively on controversial animal care issues, but rather only reactively and defensively, can be seen on an almost daily basis. Whether through activist activity, customer requests, or for marketing distinctions, major U.S. companies are making increasing demands to change animal care and drug-use practices on poultry and livestock farms. By 2022, McDonald’s will only buy pork from farmers that do not use gestation crates. Chick-fil-A will only purchase products from poultry that have never received antibiotics for any reason by 2019. Wendy’s will use only cage-free eggs by 2020 . Additionally, state laws have been enacted outlawing some production practices. Tail docking of cattle and horses has been illegal in California since 2009.

Industry Response

Every livestock and poultry sector has on-farm animal care and drug-use programs to assist farmers in meeting these marketplace demands on production practices. These programs began decades ago as “Quality Assurance Programs,” educational programs focused on animal health and residue avoidance to improve the quality and safety of livestock products, and just as important, to increase the bottom line of farmers. Today, these have evolved into evaluation and certification programs where on-farm practices can be assessed and educational assistance provided to meet marketplace demands on production practices, while still helping to increase the bottom line of farmers. Links to these programs can be found at the conclusion of this article.

Nearly 10 years ago, the dairy industry saw a need for a national, industry-led, science-based animal care program. In 2009, the National Milk Producers Federation, with assistance from Dairy Management Incorporated (the dairy industry checkoff organization), created the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program. Based on earlier guidelines from the Dairy Quality Assurance Center, the FARM program helps manage and direct these mounting animal care and drug-use pressures so that dairy farmers are not constantly whipsawed by demands from the marketplace. The FARM Program includes education, evaluation and thirdparty verification for the dairy industry to provide the transparency and rigor that any animal care program must use to build consumer trust.

To continue being relevant to customers and consumers, animal care standards need to adapt and change over time. It is important to defend practices that are defensible, critique those that are not, and exercise the wisdom and discretion to differentiate the two. This approach led to the decision in fall 2015 to accelerate the phase-out requirement for tail docking on dairy farms enrolled in the FARM Program. The deadline to end tail docking was moved up from 2022 to 2017, after which it will no longer be an acceptable practice.

When leading veterinary groups condemn routine tail docking, and no research exists to justify its practice from a milk quality or animal health standpoint, it becomes impossible to promote as credible a program that allows docking to continue. This decision effectively eliminated individual customers from enacting their own differing supply requirements for tail docking while retaining the integrity of a national industry-led, science-based animal care program — employed now by more than 90 percent of the U.S. milk supply in the nation. The practice is also no longer used in many major dairy exporting countries like New Zealand, and is banned by law in countries including Netherlands and Germany.

While transparency in animal care is new, quality animal care has always been the first and foremost focus for farmers. Farmers have a great story to tell when it comes to animal care on their farms. The goal of animal-care programs, like the FARM Program, is not to be an additional burden for farmers, but rather to collect the data that provides positive proof of what we already know to be true: farmers take excellent care of their animals. For dairy farmers, this quote from W. D. Hoard (1885 Hoard’s Dairyman) rings as true today as it did 130 years ago:

“The rule to be observed in this stable at all times, toward the cattle, young and old, is that of patience and kindness. A man’s usefulness in a herd ceases at once when he loses his temper and bestows rough usage. Men must be patient. Cattle are not reasoning beings. Remember that this is the Home of Mothers. Treat each cow as a Mother should be treated. The giving of milk is a function of Motherhood: rough treatment lessens the flow. That injures me as well as the cow. Always keep these ideas in mind in dealing with my cattle.”

National Dairy FARM Program Launches Mobile Application

The National Dairy FARM Program would not function without the commitment of the more than 370 trained individuals who perform the FARM Program evaluations. Since the Program began in 2009, more than 38,000 evaluations have been performed by these dedicated FARM Program evaluators, and up until now, those evaluations have been performed old school: with pencil and paper.

Now, thanks to a custom mobile app built using revolutionary technology called AgConnect® our Evaluators have all the tools they need to implement the FARM Program at their fingertips.

AgConnect® offers flexible data collection, aggregation and integration, as well as management and sharing tools that can be used to support a variety of needs – such as keeping track of on-farm practices. FARM’s custom version will meet the program’s growing need for data collection, and allow evaluators, cooperatives and industry associations to use the program with more ease and flexibility.

Our cooperative members and second-party evaluators had been asking for a mobile application and updated database with greater capabilities. AgConnect more than delivered on these requests, and we are excited to share this new technology with members of the program. New features of the mobile app include:

  • FARM Evaluation will automatically save after each question is answered, regardless of whether or not the user has working cell service or internet connection. Forms will submit automatically once user is back in cellular service range or connected to internet;
  • Supports tablets and phones on Apple and Android. Surface Tablet app coming later this year;
  • Same login credentials as currently used for the FARM Program database;
  • Automatically computes the minimal animal observations by animal type based on herd profile;
  • Auto calculates observation score percentages and allows the option to manually answer observation related questions;
  • Allows Evaluators to input photos and notes to review later;
  • And more!

The Institute for Infectious Animal Diseases (IIAD), a Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Center of Excellence, and the Texas Center for Applied Technology (TCAT), a research center within the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station worked together to create the program. IIAD and TCAT have a proven history in developing mobile applications using the AgConnect® technology to support a variety of different animal health domains.

The application is available on both the Apple App Store® and Google Play Store®  by searching “Dairy FARM Mobile.” Only FARM Program certified evaluators/trainers have account credentials to utilize the app and submit evaluations. For questions or inquiries about the Dairy FARM Mobile app, please contact

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!