Dr. Julian “Skip” Olson, Milk Products, LLC – Animal Welfare Audit: What to Expect
Written by Peggy Coffeen, Progressive Dairyman
With nearly 90 percent of consumers indicating that animal welfare is a concern, dairy producers must communicate their efforts to uphold the highest standards of care, and an animal welfare audit is one way to achieve this.
“With few exceptions, farmers do a fantastic job of raising their animals,” Dr. Skip Olson, DVM, Milk Products, LLC said. “We just need to do a better job of telling that story.”
Olson has been performing third-party farm audits through the American Humane Association’s (AHA) American Humane Certified program for seven years. This is the fastest-growing animal welfare seal of approval, with more than 1 billion animals certified.
To achieve this certification, dairies must meet AHA’s requirements. For example, 98 percent of cows on the dairy must have body condition scores between 2 and 4.5, and 95 percent of the herd must rate 1 or 2 on the 5-point locomotion score scale.
In addition to performing audits himself, Olson also trains second-party evaluators to conduct dairy farm audits through the National FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program. Supported by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), it is estimated that 75 percent of the U.S. milk supply has undergone these voluntary assessments that include an interview and verification. The trained evaluators are generally a herd veterinarian, nutritionist or someone else who works with the dairy other than the owner.
What do animal welfare audits evaluate?
AHA and the FARM program are both options for dairies interested in an attaining an animal welfare certification, and they each assess similar points. Management records are examined for employee codes of conduct, protocols, and standard operating procedures (SOPs), particularly pertaining to non-ambulatory cows and euthanasia. Housing, access to food and water, and transportation practices are also evaluated.
Further, outcome-based measures focus on the following areas:
- Slips and falls score: A measure of how stockmen work with cattle under their care
- Lameness and locomotion score: An outcome of cow comfort and nutrition
- Hygiene: An indicator of housing, management and environment, such as somatic cell count
- Leg condition: An assessment of knees and hocks to measure cow comfort, housing and environment
- Coat condition: An outcome of parasites, nutrition and environment
- Tail condition (broken tails): A measure of stockmanship when moving and working with animals. There is a zero-tolerance policy for willful animal abuse.
In what areas can most dairies improve?
According to Olson, recordkeeping is the area where dairy farms can do better – and it’s for their own good.
“Having a written plan protects you, too,” he stated. Many dairies fail to document and outline expectations and write down SOPs. Written proof of policies is a critical defense should a dairy be under scrutiny for animal abuse.
“You have to be able to prove what your plan was, be able to stand with absolute conviction and say, ‘That is not supposed to happen on my dairy, and thank you for pointing it out,’” Olson said.
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