Award-Winning Cow Care at Dry Creek Farm

Just north of Martinsburg, Pennsylvania – population 1,883 – is a smaller community of “ladies” who make their home at the award-winning Dry Creek Farm, a 230-cow dairy owned by Doug and Veronica Smith. Since 1991, the couple and their children Caroline Zimmerman and Brandon Smith have proudly continued the legacy of the multi-generational family farm –  taking excellent care of their cows and providing safe, wholesome milk for dairy-loving consumers. In fact, Dry Creek Farm was named the 2018 winner of the American Dairy Association North East’s Dairying for Tomorrow award for animal care. Hear from Doug, who details the farm’s history and the family’s commitment to happy, healthy cows.

Tell us about Dry Creek Farm.

Currently worked by third and fourth generation family, Dry Creek Farm started in 1937 with just seven cows. Today, we’ve grown to a 230-cow dairy, farming 400 acres and raising our own replacements. Farming as a family is very rewarding because we are all working together with the same goals in mind to create better farming practices for future generations.

What draws you to this profession?

Since around the age of 10, I’ve loved farm work. The entire family truly loves caring for the cows and producing a wholesome healthy product for consumers. I’ve never known anything different and can’t image doing anything quite as rewarding. In particular, I enjoy animal care and crop management.

How is dairy farming today different from when you first started farming?

The constant advancements in technology have decreased the physical demand of farming. However, the change in the market has created a need for greater business sense to manage margins and remain successful so our family can continue doing what it loves.

Winning the Dairying for Tomorrow award for animal care speaks to your commitment to the highest standards. Tell us about your commitment to cow care.

It’s at the forefront here at Dry Creek Farm. We continually look over the animals to ensure they’re happy and healthy, and make sure that everything on the farm is running smoothly. Also, over the last five years, we’ve made a number of improvements including incorporating new calf raising standard operating procedures, building a new free stall barn with cow brushes, and working closely with our veterinarian to improve other efforts for cow comfort.

P1000245What do you wish consumers knew about dairy farming?

Dairy farming is being a good steward of animals and the land to ensure future generations have access to wholesome and nutritious food.

If your cows could talk, what would they say about you?

That we’re constantly on the move to make sure they’re comfortable and happy.

Where does your milk go?

Dairy Farmers of America (DFA).

What is your favorite dairy product?

Ice cream, no question.

To learn more about Dry Creek Farm, follow them on Facebook.

Twin Mill Farms: Milking Life for All It’s Worth

Blake and Carmen Gendebien and their three boys love life on the dairy farm in upstate New York, doing their part to provide people across the country safe, wholesome dairy products – and a bit of pampering!

Along with Blake’s parents, the Gendebien family established Twin Mill Farms where they not only provide milk that goes toward producing award-winning Cabot cheese, but they produce a line of luxury bath and body products, A Wholesome Glow, which is sold at their nearby day spa using milk from the dairy and alfalfa from their fields. Their energy and enthusiasm extend to a foundation they launched that assists local families impacted by cancer.

To say they’re busy is an understatement. Read on to learn more from Blake about how the Gendebien crew juggles a non-stop schedule.

How long have you been dairy farming?

My wife Carmen and I bought the farm in 2003 and merged the farm with my parents’ family farm, which they started in 1972. The 1,000 acres Twin Mill Farms includes 400+ dairy cows.

Why are you a dairy farmer?

We left our non-farm careers in Atlanta to become family dairy farmers so we could move to the country and raise a family, which has grown to five with our three boys, Miles, Truman and Noah.

How would you describe your farm?

Our farm is like a piece of heaven to us. We’re surrounded by beautiful, thriving crops, healthy animals, three funny, athletic boys and amazing sunsets. There’s no other place on earth that we would rather be at than on our farm.

How is dairy farming today different from when you first started farming?

The coop model has become more important to provide a stable marketplace for our milk. Labor has become more of a challenge. The cost of inputs, equipment, land and labor have all increased significantly. And smart phones have really become an important part of our dairy. With smart phones, I can take care of banking matters from anywhere on the farm, communicate with employees, vendors and field support, check crop health field by field via satellite images, and promote the good news of agriculture on social media.

What is your favorite aspect of being a dairy farmer?

Carmen and I love being able to go on walks on the farm and ride our bicycles to the pond and jump in the water with our boys. We love the cows and raising the cows from calves to productive adult animals in the milking herd. And we absolutely love being outside, working the land, mowing hay.

If you weren’t a dairy farmer, what would you be doing?

Carmen and I would definitely be self-employed because we like to take an idea and make it a reality.

What do you wish consumers knew about dairy farming?

We wish consumers understood that our number one priority is to provide a safe, nutritious, wholesome product that every family feels good serving to their family.

If your cows could talk, what would they say about you?

If our cows could talk they’d say we are gentle, caring, loving, silly and very helpful in making their lives as comfortable and easy as possible.

Where does your milk go?

Our milk goes to Agrimark, which produces Cabot Cheese.

What is your favorite dairy product?

Our all-time favorites are whip cream, chocolate milk, ice cream and yogurt. It’s impossible to have just one favorite!

How do you manage farm life and spa life?

The farm and the spa are intertwined, and we work hard to make them a combined, sustainable family business where we share ingredients in spa products that come from the farm. We work together to create new ideas and share resources to make the spa and the farm wonderful places to work at and visit.

How do you balance farm schedules, spa schedules and kids’ schedules?

There is no balance to balancing schedules. Shuttling kids to soccer practice, balancing customers at the spa and managing our cows and land is simply a lifestyle that we’re in. It’s what we do daily and it’s never ending.

Is there anything else you want readers to know?

We believe in giving back to the community so we created a pediatric foundation called the Jules of Life Foundation to assist local families impacted by cancer. We throw a huge July 4th bash on the farm every year that is an international event with many friends and family of all nationalities flocking to the farm from around the country. It is the best way to celebrate Independence Day!

You can learn more about Blake, Carmen, their family and their farm at You can also find them FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Earth Is What We All Have in Common

By: Kendra Kissane, MMPA Sustainability Professional

There’s a quote by poet, writer and farmer Wendell Berry that states “the Earth is what we all have in common.”

I’ve found this quote useful to help create a common ground when having a dialogue about the importance of caring for our environment. No matter where you come from, your background, history, economic status, etc., we all share this planet and it’s in all our interests to take care of it the best we can.

While some people believe that they won’t be around to see the effects of how we take care of Earth during their lifetime, I see a great sense of environmental leadership coming from a group that you may not suspect – farmers.

Responsible farmers understand the importance of environmental improvements that come from implementing best management practices on their farms. An example of two environmental practices and improvements that have an impact on the environment are implementing a written nutrient (manure) management plan and creating a biodiversity action plan to protect and enhance our ecosystem.

Growing up on my family’s dairy farm in the village of Hersey, Michigan, I unknowingly experienced examples of proactive environmental improvement practices. One such example is over the course of about 20 years, our farm used a nutrient management plan by strategically applying waste produced by the cows on the sandy hills of an old gravel pit. Pine trees and grass were also added later to provide a windbreak for our heifers grazing throughout the summer months.

Looking back now I don’t believe my parents called either of these environmental practices what we call them today, nutrient management and biodiversity. We were just doing what was right – for the land, for our animals and for the generations to come.

Photo: Holger LRS Stieg Farm, LLC in Hersey, MI

In Michigan, dairy farmers have many resources and programs available to assist in identifying, improving and preventing potential environmental risks.

One of these programs is the innovative Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), which is a robust risk assessment that addresses four different areas to minimize agriculture pollution risk: 1. Livestock, 2. Farmstead, 3. Cropping, and 4. Forest, Wetlands and Habitats.

Another valuable tool for U.S. dairy farmers is the National Dairy FARM Program Environmental Stewardship (ES) module, which provides a comprehensive estimate of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy use associated with dairy farming.

By tracking advances in dairy production efficiency through this resource, farmers can assure dairy customers and consumers of their commitment to ongoing environmental progress and identify areas for improvement. The FARM Environmental Stewardship Continuous Improvement Reference Manual is available to assist producers and farm specialist in improving their environmental footprint.

Programs like these are helping farmers across the country work to do things better each day for the environment. The land, air and water are truly a gift that must be protected. It’s a responsibility that my family and every farmer I know takes very seriously.

Kendra Kissane is the Sustainability Coordinator at Michigan Milk Producers Association. You can find her on Facebook at Fresh Coast Farm Girl (formerly Farming Chiquely) and Instagram as @fresh_coast_farmgirl.

A Family Legacy Draws Tara Vander Dussen Back to the Farm

“I didn’t think I wanted to be a dairy farmer.”

A family legacy draws Tara Vander Dussen back to the farm

A fifth-generation Dutch dairy farmer, Tara Vander Dussen is a wife, mom and environmental scientist passionate about sharing the dairy story and carrying on her family’s long tradition of excellent animal care and producing quality milk. Learn what life is like at Rajen Dairy in Eastern New Mexico and how Tara’s love of family and farming drive her every day.

How long have you been dairy farming?

My husband, Daniel and I, are both fifth-generation dairy farmers. Dairy farming is a part of our heritage. After college, Daniel and I got married, and I moved back to New Mexico and on to the dairy. For the last seven years, I have been working on our dairy as an environmental scientist.

What do you like most about being a dairy farmer?

As a dairy farm mom, my favorite thing about dairy farming is the sense of family. I love raising our two daughters on the dairy. Most days, we get to have lunch as a family. The girls get to see their dad on the dairy every day. I get to work right along with my husband on some projects. Our farm is multi-generational. We dairy farm with my husband’s parents and his five brothers and their families. It really takes the whole family to make it all work.

If you weren’t a dairy farmer, what would you be doing?

When I left for college, I didn’t think I wanted to be a dairy farmer. I had no plans of coming back to the farm. I don’t know what I was thinking! Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I absolutely love dairy farming and being a part of the dairy community. If I wasn’t a dairy farmer, I would hope I could still be involved in the dairy industry, maybe in consumer relations. I love sharing with people about dairy farming.

 What do you wish consumers knew about dairy farming?

I wish consumers would take the time to get to know some dairy farmers and see just how much we care about our cows and our farm. There are so many misconceptions about dairy farming. We are a large farm, but we are still family owned and operated. Any day of the week, one of us will be here at the dairy caring for our cows. Dairy farmers are truly passionate about what they do. I think it would surprise people to learn how much time and thought goes into every detail of caring for our cows. We have vets and nutritionist that help us make the best decisions for the cows.

What is your favorite dairy product?

It’s too hard to pick just one dairy product that’s my favorite. It changes throughout the day. In the mornings, I can’t live without my Fairlife chocolate milk in my mochas. And for lunch, there has to be cheese on my burger or burrito. And for dessert, who doesn’t love ice cream?

Where does your milk go?

Being that we are located in eastern New Mexico, most of our milk is made into cheese. Our town is home to the world’s largest cheese plant. That might surprise people that New Mexico produces a lot of cheese. Move over Wisconsin! New Mexico is making cheese!To learn more about Rajen Dairy, check out or follow Tara and her family on Instagram @newmexicomilkmaid! 

Nature: It’s a Cruel World Out There

People may profess a love of the natural world, but when confronted with what that truly entails, not everyone remains so fond of Mother Nature. The Washington Post recently reported on the stark difference between what consumers think occurs within the animal kingdom, and what really does. The story talks about the trend of watching livestreams of actual animal habitats, and the vitriol that erupts when viewers see horrific – but natural – occurrences, like when a mother eagle rejects her baby and lets it starve.

Here’s where the idea of transparency reveals important truths about both people and animals. “Nature” can be cruel and even violent – and that applies to dairy cows. For example, it is natural for some cows to reject their babies, leaving the animal to perish without proper nutrition. On a dairy operation, the farmer will step in and care for the calf separately, giving it the proper care an absent mother could not. This is another example of how a farm setting is actually more humane than the so-called “natural” alternative, because farmers – unlike nature – have a vested interest in keeping their animals alive.

Read a snippet of the Washington Post story below, and read the rest here.


People love watching nature on nest cams — until it gets grisly

The osprey cam at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is trained on a nest near the Massachusetts seaside, and the pair that call it home are now waiting for three eggs to hatch. But for the first spring in a decade, the camera is dark, and a note on the institute’s website offers only a two-sentence explanation.

“Regrettably, the cam will not be operating this season due to the increasingly aggressive actions of certain viewers the last two years,” it begins.

That is a staid reference to cam fans whose emotions about the nest morphed into vitriol — and fighting words. When the osprey mother began neglecting and attacking her chicks in 2014, anxiety exploded among some viewers, as did demands that the institution intervene to save the baby birds. When the same thing happened in 2015, the public passions took a more personal turn.

“It is absolutely disgusting that you will not take those chicks away from that demented witch of a parent!!!!!” one viewer emailed to Jeffrey Brodeur, the communications specialist who ran the camera. Another wrote: “I realize this is nature, but once you put up a cam to view into their worlds it is no longer nature. You have a responsibility to help n save when in need.”

Bird-nest cams have become hugely popular, and spring is when they’re full of action. Millions of viewers log on to see live-streamed egg-laying, egg-incubating and chick-hatching. Along the way, many become attached to the little birds, eager to see them spread their wings and fly.

But nests are also nature, and nature can be nasty. Last month, a Pittsburgh cam’s bald eagles made national news when they fed a small cat to their eaglets.

Many chicks don’t survive their first year: Some starve to death, their carcasses decaying for all the Internet to see. Some are preyed upon by hawks or crows or cats. Some are slain by their nestmates.

And some viewers just can’t handle the tragedy.

Read more…

Temple Grandin: Setting the Record Straight

The rise in milk output from the typical dairy cow has been one of the constants in the dairy business for many decades, here in the United States, and also in most other developed nations that value dairy cattle genetics. It’s a sign that farmers are doing better with both the nature and the nurture of how cows are bred and raised.

That trend, however, drew some unwanted – and unwarranted – attention last month, when The Washington Post ran an online Wonkblog article insinuating that dairy cows and their genetics were being pushed too hard in an unhealthy direction. The main source for that assertion was Temple Grandin, perhaps the most well-known cattle behavior expert in the world.  So when she says there’s a problem, people take note.

Only, what she told The Post reporter wasn’t really what was reflected in the story.  According to the following letter she recently sent to the Colorado dairy industry, Dr. Grandin didn’t imply that two-thirds of dairies are “bad.” 

What did she really mean? Here is her perspective on dairy farming, in her own words.

Setting the record straight
Temple Grandin

The Wonkblog article “Why a top animal science expert is worried about the milk industry” by Roberto Ferdman has caused considerable discussion among the dairy industry and academia. My purpose in this writing is to clarify what was said and what are my opinions of the dairy industry.

The premise of Mr. Ferdman’s 15-minute phone interview with me was to help explain the graphs showing the decrease in number of dairy cows and the increase in production per cow. During the interview I praised the excellent Colorado dairies I visited with Bill Wailes prior to his death. I also indicated that, in my opinion, excellent dairies like these represent a third of the dairies in the United States. This was interpreted by Mr. Ferdman to mean that two thirds of the dairies in the United States are bad. This is not true.

I have and will always be an advocate for animal wellbeing. However, I do believe we need to be concerned about pushing biology too far without the proper support for extremes in production. After learning that high producing cows, such as Gigi, have good longevity, I will stop making statements that relate production to longevity. Recent information from semen distributors has also shown that concentrated selection for size and production has been replaced by selection for health and longevity. It is great to have genetic options to improve traits and wellbeing. In addition, I just learned that recently published and soon-to-be published scientific studies show great improvement in lameness issues previously associated with high producing cows.

There are always areas where improvement is needed. Too many cows that should be euthanized on the farm are still arriving at packing plants. Another problem I have observed is very tall cows and some tall dairy steers are bruising their backs in transit. Truck size is limited to 13 feet 6 inches due to bridge clearance. If cattle are too tall, they may require single deck trailers.

In conclusion, I will be clearer when talking to the public. The majority of the dairy industry is doing a great job with animal well-being through improved facilities, workforce management, feeding and selection, but there are still a few who really hurt all of animal agriculture when poor decisions are made. While I praise the majority, we all need to work together to improve the others.

3 Open Minutes with Emily Meredith of FARM

This article originally appeared in the April 19, 2016, issue of Progressive Dairyman. It was written by Walt Cooley.

During the past several months, Progressive Dairyman readers have responded to an announcement last fall that tail docking will not be permitted as part of Farmers Assuring Responsible Management, or the FARM Program, beginning next year.

Editor Walt Cooley summarized a few of their oft-repeated comments and questions about the accelerated timeline for ending the practice. He posed them to NMPF’s Vice President of Animal Care Emily Meredith. NMPF operates the national FARM program that guides animal care standards for 94 percent of the U.S. milk supply. What follows are Meredith’s responses.

Q. ‘If tail docking is not a hill to die on, what are the hills to die on in the FARM Program?’

A. MEREDITH: I think the first thing that comes to mind is antibiotic use. We have a lot of customers and people asking about dairy farms’ use of antibiotics – when they use them, how much they use them and are they mindful of withdrawal times.

Their questions are obviously something we work very hard to answer. The FARM program as it exists now helps to do that.

The number one tenet of the FARM program is the veterinary-client-patient relationship. That relationship is infinitely helpful when we go to a large customer, such as Walmart for example, and can say, “Our data shows that 99.999 percent of dairies that have been evaluated in the FARM program have a signed veterinary-client-patient relationship that is updated annually.”

Customers are looking for that veterinary oversight. They are looking for that collaboration to give them a great deal of confidence in the milk and dairy products they are buying. By making the VCPR a requirement, we can provide a measurable answer to this question with great confidence.

Q. What other animal care issues are coming to the forefront of customers’ minds?

A. MEREDITH: I’d say the other big one coming down the pike is a conversation around procedures we do in the dairy industry that research has shown are inherently painful.

Customers are asking how we address pain management. A lot of folks caution us that cows are not human beings. I completely agree with that, but there is also a lot of scientific research that’s been done by leading animal health experts, both in this country and others, that show there are some procedures that do cause some pain. We have decisions to make about how we answer those questions.

Dehorning is a perfect example. It is a procedure we can defend because it is very necessary, not only for the safety of the animals but also for the humans working around them. However, we need to be talking about how we are doing that procedure and when we are doing it.

The research shows earlier is better, which is why in the FARM program it recommends doing it before 6 weeks old. We are looking at how producers could work with their veterinarians to determine if there is something they could give a calf to lessen the pain of that procedure.

Antibiotic use and dehorning – those to me are our critical “hills to die on” because I can’t think of a dairy farm that doesn’t dehorn and I can’t think of a dairy farm that doesn’t use antibiotics – except, of course, organic dairies.

Those two are the type of things we need to put our energy and weight behind and figure out how we talk to people about why those practices are necessary and defend them, if necessary.

Q. ‘After watching the tail-docking issue unfold, it feels like we are giving up when it comes to accepting customers’ animal care requests.’ Does ‘folding’ on tail docking set a precedent that the industry will give up on other issues?

A. MEREDITH: I would strongly disagree with that statement. I don’t think we are giving up. To begin with, the end of routine tail docking next year is not a change in policy.

It’s been written that way in the FARM program since its creation in 2009 that we don’t recommend the practice. We are moving up the deadline for the end of the use of the practice, yes, because of concerns that have been raised.

A lot of customers were already setting their own deadline on that issue, which was a challenge to having one national animal care program such as the FARM program. We didn’t want to see that happen.

The reality is – and it is a challenging one for us here at NMPF as well as for those who administer the FARM program – we live in a world where consumers are very interested in the story behind their food, and customers want to be able to tell their own story about social responsibility and sustainability in animal care.

Those are things they are now suddenly interested in. And that means we need to be more proactive. I don’t see being proactive as giving up. I see it as preserving the best possible market for milk and dairy products by picking battles.

Keeping all of our customers on the same page so we don’t have 30 different standards for animal care but just one is a challenge. It’s something our staff works very hard to do. Making sure that we are answering questions and moving everyone in the same direction; that to me is not giving up. Sometimes that’s going to mean that, yes, we need to evaluate which practices we can defend. We just can’t defend tail docking anymore.

Q. ‘Tail docking should be a practice that remains an individual producer’s right to choose to use or not use.’ Who is it that’s making decisions about what producers can and cannot do?

A. MEREDITH: First and foremost, what I say to producers who call me about this issue is that it’s still your right to choose whether or not you want to tail dock. However, there are now ramifications for that decision.

You can choose to do what you find is best, but you just might then have a challenge finding a home for your product if your co-op or processor chooses not to accept your milk. This is the market talking to farmers; how farmers respond will determine their marketing options going forward.

In terms of who makes the rules, it’s our technical writing group, which is a group of producers, co-op staff, academics and veterinarians. We don’t have customers who sit on our advisory committees, although we certainly receive their input almost on a daily basis. We certainly share their feedback with our advisory group.

They meet every three years to determine what, if any, changes are needed to the FARM program. They look to see what the latest research is, what we are seeing in the field, what we are hearing from our producers, and then also what the program data shows.

Any recommended changes go through a review process by our NMPF Animal Health and Well-Being Committee, and then the changes are also sent out for public comment.

In the version of the FARM program that’s coming out in January 2017, the only practice we say needs to be phased out is tail docking. We’re not asking anything else to happen on any other animal care practice.

Q. ‘I don’t believe science has proven tail docking isn’t a beneficial practice.’ How much will science play a role in determining the validity of the use of a practice in the future?

A. MEREDITH: The FARM program is, first and foremost, a science-based program.

If we want to put our faith in a science-based program, we unfortunately can’t pick and choose which science we want to support. That means we need to stand behind science even when research shows that a practice that we’re currently doing might no longer be viable.

I think that’s exemplified in the tail-docking issue. The American Dairy Science Association and the Journal of Dairy Science just published all of the research on tail docking. (See Tail Docking Collection for a special collection of articles published between 2000 and 2010.) Not a single one of those studies says that tail docking is a viable or a recommended practice for the health and welfare of a dairy animal.

It’s important to point out that no tail docking takes place in California, the number-one dairy state, and our own data indicates that only about one-quarter of farms nationally continue to do it. So it’s hard to make the case that docking is essential to the industry.

Q. ‘The FARM program was voluntary at first, now it’s not voluntary because my co-op is mandating that I participate. It feels like this program doesn’t stop asking for things. Will the program ever stop asking for more?’

A. MEREDITH: l think the phrase that describes the FARM program best is that it’s a program of continuous improvement. And so, as needed, the FARM program standards are going to continue to evolve and change.

We’re not looking for perfection or for change overnight. We’re looking for change over time, progress over time. The FARM program is going to do our part to make sure that everyone downstream – our customers – understand that this program isn’t about a perfect score.

It isn’t even a score program, for that matter. It’s about continuous improvement, evolving practices and what we’re doing on dairies over time.

I think to a certain extent, we have to change how we look at these things. If you look at this program always in a negative light, then you are only going to feel negative about it.

But if you look at this program as something that helps to tell the story we already know is true, which is that dairy farmers take great care of their animals, then this program helps us provide the data to help back that story up to the people who are asking questions.

The reality is: Our customers are probably never going to stop asking questions. They are not going to stop asking about how things are done on the farm. We don’t live in a world anymore where we can just say, “Trust us. It’s under control.” I think where I would like to end up is where we provide them hard proof and all the information they need to feel confident in the dairy industry and how we treat our animals.

Q. ‘Whoever doesn’t allow tail docking hasn’t been smacked in the face with a manure-soaked tail before. Who is it that’s making up these standards?’

A. MEREDITH: I feel fairly confident saying that everyone on the FARM program’s technical writing group and NMPF’s Animal Health and Well-Being Committee have all milked cows. I am confident in saying they understand that it is unpleasant.

Our experts have recommended switch trimming as an alternative to tail docking to alleviate the issue you just mentioned. These are the folks who set the policy and, again, they have a wealth of experience both on-farm and in academic settings that make them very well equipped to set the course for the FARM Program going forward.

Q-and-A with Chase DeCoite of the Beef Quality Assurance Program

This past February, we announced an exciting new stage to an already prolific partnership. This year, the FARM Program and the beef checkoff-funded Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program will collaborate to offer more training opportunities for farmers and ranchers.

Education is the key to preventing health and wellness problems for cattle down the road. The BQA partnership will extend the scope of the FARM Program’s educational materials, as well as harness the expertise that BQA’s educators can provide to our producers. Working together, we will continue to assure consumers that their meat and milk comes from animals that receive optimal care throughout the animals’ lives.

To help our FARM Program participants understand this opportunity in more detail, FARM spoke with Chase DeCoite, associate director of the BQA program:

What was behind the decision to partner with the FARM Program?

The decision came about after looking for a better way to reach dairy producers with educational material and information about beef quality. The Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program already had a Dairy BQA program that had high-quality information and resources, but not a wide audience of dairy producers. With FARM undergoing its Version 3.0 revision process, we thought it was a great opportunity to work with FARM administrators and dairy industry leaders to incorporate some of Dairy BQA’s key principles into a program that was already reaching our target audience.

Dairy animals have a dual purpose. After spending their lives producing milk, those animals work their way into the beef supply chain. Therefore, dairy producers participate in the beef checkoff and as such, the checkoff-funded BQA program has long felt it was important to offer those producers the same resources and information as it does to beef producers.

What are some similarities and differences between BQA and FARM?

BQA has a long history of providing beef producers with educational tools and resources to continuously improve their operations. While FARM is a younger program, it has the same goals.  Major similarities revolve around record keeping, animal health plans, minding withdrawal periods when administering animal health products, and low-stress stockmanship principles.

While the goals and resources of both programs are similar, the programs have different approaches to reaching their respective audiences. BQA is a grassroots educational effort with a wide network of BQA trainers and coordinators in most states. It is a nationally coordinated, state-implemented program. Individuals that complete BQA trainings are certified as an individual. This communicates that the individual has been trained in BQA best management practices and understands the overarching concepts of BQA. The FARM Program is different in that the educational resources and trainings culminate in an on-farm evaluation process. BQA does not require evaluations of operations, though it does provide beef producers with assessment tools that they can use, should they desire.

Tell us more about the training opportunities available to dairy producers as a result of this partnership. What makes them so valuable and where can producers access them?

BQA supports a program called Stockmanship and Stewardship, which travels the country and provides live cattle-handling demonstrations to both beef and dairy audiences. Because Version 3.0 of the FARM Program has a greater emphasis on stockmanship, we are working to expand our program to reach a larger dairy audience. Our Stockmanship and Stewardship clinicians have been presenting to dairy audiences for years and are excited for the opportunity to do more with the dairy sector.  Dairy producers should keep an eye out for programs coming to their region soon.

Additionally, we are working with FARM to develop stockmanship training modules that producers and employees can access if a live demonstration is not available or they prefer to train that way. Both in-person and online training will satisfy the stockmanship training requirement for FARM Version 3.0.

Stockmanship and BQA training are hugely successful because producers will typically start noticing things they can do to improve their operations. We often hear testimony of how beef and dairy producers have made simple changes in how they handle their cattle and notice improvements in milk production, worker safety and the overall work environment.

Will dairy farmers be able to access any BQA resources through this partnership? If so, how can they do it?

Yes! BQA resources are available to all beef and dairy producers. We have a wide array of resources, from BQA guidelines and manuals to online training modules, as well as a robust and growing YouTube channel. We encourage dairy producers to check out all of these tools at We are also working with FARM to tailor some key resources that will be posted on the FARM Program website.

What does BQA see as some of the looming pressures in the marketplace related to beef sourcing and quality (i.e. more claims about no antibiotics used in meat production)?

The beef industry faces many of the same pressures as dairy. Consumers today are increasingly interested in where their food comes from and how the animals are raised and treated.

Specifically, we see a lot of questions from consumers and retail partners about antibiotic use and animal welfare. Some retailers are looking to provide more choices to their consumers, and others want to be assured that their products are being raised according to industry best practices. Largely, we are seeing that BQA and FARM are answering these questions and concerns once folks learn about the programs. Still, both the beef and dairy industries must continuously evaluate and improve their programs to meet consumer demands while also remaining committed to the best management practices developed from sound science and research. I hope and expect that more retailers, restaurants and foodservice groups will adopt and endorse BQA and FARM as programs that satisfy their expectations and animal welfare policies.

What is one thing you want dairy producers to know about BQA and this partnership?

BQA has long been committed to providing producers with the tools, resources and materials to improve their operations. We see this partnership as the next step in that commitment. We provide resources and training that complement the FARM Program and give dairy producers the tools to be even more successful in their quest to provide high-quality, wholesome, delicious milk – and meat! We look forward to working together to improve and enhance the beef and dairy industries.

Sending Positive Thoughts to Those Affected by Winter Storm Goliath

Winter storm Goliath, with its record-shattering blizzard, dealt a harsh year-end blow last week to dairy farmers in the Southwest.

Dairy Carrie Mess gets the inside scoop on how family farms in the New Mexico-West Texas region fought back against the elements in an effort to save their cows. Cow comfort is a perennial challenge across the country, across the seasons, whether due to heat and drought in the summer, or snow and ice in the winter. The ethics of responsible animal care that is shared by farms of all types and sizes never takes a snow day.

We’re sending good thoughts to all of our FARM Program farms that have been affected and wishing them a speedy recovery in 2016.