Simply put: Cows come first. Dairy cow care is one of the most important parts of creating wholesome and quality milk and dairy products, and farmers are constantly discovering new ways to help optimally care for their cows—no matter the season.
What Is the FARM Animal Care Program?
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.
The FARM Animal Care program provides standards to ensure high-quality animal care. These standards are developed by farmers, veterinarians, dairy welfare academics and other industry experts. Ninety-nine 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 and certified evaluators on every participating dairy at least once every three years. More than 450 trained and certified second-party evaluators have conducted more than 90,000 on-farm evaluations since the program’s inception. The evaluators check that participating dairy farms are responsibly managing all aspects of cow care including but not limited to:
- Employee training
- Appropriate nutrition for all cows and calves
- Well-maintained facilities
- Maintenance of appropriate record-keeping and protocols
- Working with veterinarians and other animal care professionals; and
- Third-party verification.
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 provide 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 and nutrition to ensure cow health and improve the environmental sustainability of their farms while achieving optimal productivity. While each farm is unique, most dairy cows are provided balanced nutrition through a total mixed ration that consists of good quality forages, and a balance of grains and proteins, vitamins and minerals.