The Bucknell Nutrition Conference, held in Lewisburg Pa., concluded with a presentation by Andy Vance, an agricultural journalist, commentator, and entrepreneur. One of the first questions he posed to the audience was, "When you first began your career how many of you cared about ag policy?" Few individuals raised their hands. His next question: "How many of you care now?" Almost every hand in the room went up.
It is important to protect our industry, but it is equally important to share the whole story with our consumers. While many videos that go "viral" are sensationalized, a recent article by Vance, in Feedstuffs, discussed why and how to "You-tube" proof your operation.
As producers we have an obligation to treat our animals well and remind our consumers that we abide by this principle every day. Doing so can minimize the vulnerability of our operations to viral attacks.
According to Vance, the first step is to be beyond reproach; your operation should have a zero-tolerance policy. Write down your core values when it comes to the standards of operation for your dairy. This should be a statement everyone is aware of, believes in, and agrees with. Individuals who don't agree should not be working with your livestock.
From this statement, you should derive basic guiding principles that address areas that are commonly exploited by activists, such as sick and nonambulatory animals. By considering how to deal with these problems before they arise, you can implement if-then scenarios, which can guide you and your employees rather than risking making a poor spur-of-the-moment decision that ends up online.
Involve your employees when developing if-then scenarios. It allows you to consider situations that you hadn't previously thought of and gives your team some emotional buy-in. Having well thought out plans not only tells employees how to handle those situations, but provides critical thinking experience for the inevitable problems that arise outside of your already established protocols.
You should also make clear to all employees on the dairy that certain violations are zero tolerance regardless of what happened or why. Communicate clearly and often what these behaviors are and how they can be avoided throughout the hiring and training process. Doing so eliminates a violating employee's ability to claim ignorance to your dairies policies and beliefs regarding animal care.