Producers Should Evaluate Facilities in Preparation for New FARM Guidelines

Producers Should Evaluate Facilities in Preparation for New FARM Guidelines

The Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program will implement its latest round of guidelines on Jan. 1.

During a Tech Tuesday webinar on Dec. 13, several Penn State Extension educators described how good facilities can help farmers meet those new expectations.

“Good stockmanship is really facilitated by good facilities,” said Ernest Hovingh, an Extension veterinarian. “We can train people to do things right, but we also need to have the facilities to do that good stockmanship.”

The FARM program, administered by the National Milk Producers Federation, released several revisions to the program in the spring.

One change will result in a greater emphasis on accountability among program participants. Criteria to be evaluated include employee training, having a documented veterinarian-client patient relationship, updated protocols on euthanasia and nonambulatory cattle, and ending the practice of tail docking.

The “need” that is sometimes argued for in the defense of tail docking is largely negated when a farm has good facilities, Hovingh said.

The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes the practice of tail docking. Instead, farmers are allowed to shave and trim switches.

Farm operators who do not meet these updated standards during their audits will have to adopt mandatory corrective plans established by their veterinarians or second-party auditors.

They will have up to a year to comply with the plan. If they fail their reinspections, they will be placed on a two-month probation. Another failed inspection will result in suspension from the FARM program.

“The mandatory action plan is adding some rigor to this program,” Hovingh said.

The second phase of the program has “nothing new” but asks for written protocols as part of the farm’s herd health plan.

The written protocols need to include newborn calf care, management of down cows and lameness prevention. Cows will also be evaluated for body condition, and hock and knee lesions.

Farm operators who do not meet baseline expectations for those areas will have to implement continuous improvement plans developed by their evaluators and show improvement by their next regular evaluations.

Other updates focus on cattle hygiene and an expanded dairy beef quality assurance program.

Dan McFarland, a Penn State Extension educator, reviewed FARM’s environment and facilities management checklist.

Housing should provide protection from heat and cold, McFarland said, and efforts should be made to minimize dust, odors and noxious gases.

Cows, heifers and calves should be able to easily stand up, lie down and rest without risk of injury. Cattle also need to have secure footing to avoid slips and falls.

Many of these issues can be resolved through good ventilation, stall design and management, McFarland said.

“In troubleshooting cow comfort issues, they need to be measured,” he said.

To help farmers do that, McFarland and Penn State educator John Tyson have developed a checklist to evaluate facility risk factors.

Ventilation is not a new topic. “We want to provide excellent air quality,” McFarland said. Farms need to manage moisture, gas and pollutant levels.

Temperature is not a concern as long as cattle are protected from the wind and weather.

“Cows are more affected by heat stress than cold stress in our climate,” McFarland said. Shade, good air exchange, air movement, water cooling and access to drinking water can help cattle adapt to hot weather.

Dairy cows need to rest between 10 and 14 hours a day. “I am confident we can reach this,” McFarland said. “We need to provide facilities cows want to use.”

A good resting area will reduce injuries, increase the cow’s life span and improve milk production. Stalls should be designed to allow cows to use all their resting postures.

These considerations are the same for freestall and tie-stall barns. Tie-stall neck chains must be long enough to accommodate cows’ resting behaviors.

Stalls need good bedding that’s comfortable for the cows and should be groomed at least three times a day to keep the bedding surface clean.

“A lot of success of a stall depends on the caregiver,” McFarland said.

Overcrowding contributes to losses in production, greater somatic cell counts, an increased incidence of lameness and low pregnancy rates.

Referring to a 2014 study by Rick Grant at the Miner Institute, McFarland said the stocking rate for two-row freestall barns should not exceed 120 percent of the optimum rate.

If the herd is a mixed group of older and first lactation cows, the stocking should remain at 100 percent of the optimum rate.

McFarland also recommends 100 percent density for three-row freestall barns because of the limited feed bunk space.

“Don’t be fooled by overstocking when regarding stall use,” McFarland said. Farmers need to avoid overcrowding in bedded pack areas to keep things clean and dry.

Floor surfaces should be maintained to reduce slippage and improve cow traction. Grooving and texturing are options on concrete.

Resilient flooring can provide cows some relief for areas where they have to stand for some time, such as the milking parlor holding pen and at the feed bunk.

Facilities should allow for easy handling of the cattle. Cattle should be “outsmarted rather than outfought,” McFarland said.

The facilities need to have provisions for the care of individual cows during breeding and medical treatment. And those systems should be designed so one person can move one cow easily.

“A lot of this comes down to good husbandry,” McFarland said.

By: Charlene Shupp Epenshade, Special Sections Editor
Source: Lancaster Farming

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