Farm Animal Welfare | U.S. Dairy

Animal Care

Simply put: Cows come first. Dairy cow care is one of the most important parts of production, and farmers are constantly discovering new ways to help their cows stay healthy and comfortable—no matter the season.

Dairy farmers—with small or large farms—use best management practices as outlined in the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Animal Care Program to ensure their cows are well-cared for by providing them with a nutritious diet, plenty of water and well-ventilated, well-lighted barns—all of which help keep cows healthy.

Dairy farmers, regardless of their herd size, use many ways to provide quality animal care. Many modern dairy farms today include free-stall housing. This type of barn allows cows to eat, drink and rest whenever and wherever they choose—within the barn and the surrounding area. Other farms choose open lots that allow for easy access to and from housing to open land. Some farms opt to use tie-stall barns, which provides individual stalls for cows that allow for clean, dry and comfortable resting and standing and ample room for farm workers to milk the cow in the stall.

Many barns also feature fans and water misters that keep the cows cool and comfortable in the warm months. Farmers also provide clean sand, wood chips, mattresses or even waterbeds for comfortable bedding for their cows.

Dairy farmers are always evolving their feed management techniques to ensure cow health, realize production efficiencies and improve the environmental sustainability of their farms. While each farm is unique, most dairy cows eat nutritious feed that consists primarily of grass, along with some grain and natural byproducts such as almond hulls, canola meal or citrus pulp that humans cannot eat and would otherwise become landfill waste.

What is the FARM program? 

The FARM program provides protocols for high-quality animal care developed by farmers and veterinarians, and includes accountability to the broader community. Ninety-eight percent of the milk supply comes from U.S. dairy farms that are enrolled in the FARM animal care program, demonstrating the commitment of U.S. dairy farmers and the broader dairy community to assuring the health and welfare of dairy cows through exceptional cow care.

FARM is the first livestock animal care program in the world to be recognized by International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Animal Welfare Management standards. As part of the program, second-party evaluations are completed by trained individuals on every participating dairy at least once every three years, and more than 450 trained and certified second-party evaluators have conducted more than 50,000 on-farm evaluations since the program’s inception. The evaluators check that participating dairy farms are using responsible operating procedures including:

  • Appropriate feed and care for cows and calves 

  • Clean environment and housing for cows

  • Hands-on employee training 

  • Record-keeping on individual animals 

  • Working with veterinarians and other animal care professionals; and  

  • Third-party verification.


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