FOUNTAIN, Minn. – The workers at Trailside Holsteins are preparing for an audit. Independent, third-party inspectors from the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Program will be visiting Trailside Holsteins to review the farm, the employees and complete the Johnson’s next stage of the program.
“(FARM) is a third-party audit that comes on farm,” said Michael Johnson of Trailside Holsteins. “We want to show that we’re treating our animals well, so we do an audit, check the hock scores, and the cleanliness and handling of the animals.”
Trained evaluators come on the farm and asses how the operation is run. These evaluators offer an outside, unbiased view of the dairy farm’s day-to-day operation and a fair assessment of the people running the operation.
The program is divided into different program silos. The first silo focuses on animal care, and this is where the program really began, as a way for dairy farmers to show consumers that they are taking care of their cattle.
As time went on and the program grew in popularity, more silos were added. There are a total of four silos or evaluation focus areas: animal care, antibiotic stewardship, workforce development and environmental stewardship.
Each year, the program is refined and improved through new versions.
“The second version really focused on SOPs, standard operating procedures, especially with antibiotics, veterinary/client agreements, recording on farm and withholding times,” Johnson said.
FARM started as a completely voluntary program. The goal was to show dairy consumers and the general public all about the dairy farmer’s commitment to running a good operation by opening their farm to these third-party audits.
“We were actually one of the first ones to be audited in the Midwest, because I was like definitely, let’s do this, we're doing a good job and I'll tell anybody,” he said. “It is now a co-op driven thing.”
Most co-ops have enrolled in the FARM program, meaning they will only purchase milk from producers who have been audited.
More than 98 percent of milk produced in the U.S. comes from farms that have completed the FARM animal care program.
“The benefit for the dairy industry is that when a customer has a concern, like Nestle, the dairy industry can say, ‘Yes, we have this program in place,’” Michael said.
Companies like McDonalds that use a lot of cheese or Starbucks that use a lot of milk, their direct customers will ask them how the milk is produced and how their cattle are being treated.
“Those companies come to the dairy industry asking, ‘Hey, are you guys treating your cows well?’ And then we can say, ‘Yes, yes we are and here's this program that we do that can verify that,’” he said.
Trailside Holsteins has worked on the third version of the program. The audit this month will focus on the workforce development silo.
“I do employee training all the time and we have meetings, but in the past, I wasn't very good about documenting that and writing those things down,” he said. “That's been the biggest change.”
It is not just employee training included in the FARM program. Michael and his family, as owners of the farm, have to ensure and document that they have kept up with their training as well.
The documentation, while tedious, is an important step to making sure that every employee did in fact receive the training and signed off on it, and that no one accidently missed something because they were busy in the barn.
The other important part about documentation is that if something should happen at the farm, the Johnson’s have a record saying this is not what we teach our staff and that this is not the culture of our facility.
The FARM program is as much about showing consumers the dairy industry’s commitment to quality practices as it is protecting dairy producers from consumer backlash.
“We can always improve, but farmers take care of our cows, we have to,” Michael said. “If we don't, they're not going to produce well for us and we're not going to have a business.”