Sept. 12 2012 02:32 PM

The National F.A.R.M. program evaluates your dairy animals in four specific areas and evaluates your welfare practices against industry recommendations.

by Lucas Sjostrom, Hoard's Dairyman Associate Editor

If you're not, you may want to look into it. The National F.A.R.M. program (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) is operating as a partnership of the National Milk Producers Federation and Dairy Management, Inc. Today, it's a voluntary program to help score your farm's welfare practices against the industry recommendations. Tomorrow, it could be a required program for milk heading to certain retailers.

National F.A.R.M. was announced in 2009. With now more than 50 percent of the nation's milk involved, it definitely holds some clout as an animal care benchmarking program. Maybe some of the data could be used for future research projects as well.

Yesterday, I participated in second-party evaluator training. Most people are familiar with a third-party auditor, and these are an integral part of the program as well. But first, someone who is somewhat familiar with the farm does an assessment as a second-party evaluator. In this evaluation, all dairy animals (excluding dairy beef) are scored in Body Condition Scoring (BCS), locomotion scoring (the system created by Zinpro), hygiene scoring and hock lesions. A third-party evaluation will be conducted on a percentage of farms to check the compliance of the second-party evaluators (but this additional check has no bearing on the farm itself).

Not all animals scored

Based on statistical analysis, not every animal on the farm needs to be scored. As a thumb rule, about every other animal needs to be scored between 60 and 100 animals. Between 100 and 200 animals, the rate rises to 1 in 3. It's 1 in 4 by 300 and 1 in 5 by 350. Farms with over 17,000 animals need only 96 animals evaluated to get an accurate sample size. In addition to the animal scoring, a 77-question producer interview must be completed.

In yesterday's training, we were trained (or retrained) on the four types of scoring. The standards National F.A.R.M. laid out for the industry to follow seem to make sense. Also, keeping it a benchmarking, rather than pass/fail, program allows producers to make improvements. But the recommendations for the scoring are pretty firm:
-90 percent of animals (and 90 percent of each pen) scoring a 1 or 2 on hygiene
-90 percent of animals score a 1, and 99 percent score a 2 in hock scoring
-90 percent of animals with a BCS between 2.0 and 4.0
-90 percent of the animals scoring 2 or lower on locomotion.

If you follow the recommendations of the National F.A.R.M. program, you'll be doing things that make sense for animals and your bottom line. The only real complaint people have with National F.A.R.M. is that it doesn't have enough teeth. I would say, be careful what you wish for. As our consumer population evolves, the teeth may bite harder than we could ever imagine. For more information, visit their website.