The Role of the Veterinarian in the FARM Program

The FARM program is nothing new to dairy practitioners but it may be new to some of you. The FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) program is an effort by dairymen, co-operatives and processors to establish guidelines and best practices for the well-being of their animals and to provide assurance to customers that dairies are providing the highest standard of care. Some of our clients have been involved with the program and undergoing evaluations for several years now depending on the co-op they ship to. Today, the National Milk Producers Federations (NMPF) program has been adopted by virtually the entire industry and as a result, it affects all of our clients. Veterinarians are being asked to play a critical role.

Every three years, a technical writing committee composed of dairymen, veterinarians, academics and industry representatives reviews the content and intent of the program and recommends changes. As a result, the FARM program has evolved from an education-based volunteer program to today’s version that has requirements for participation and enrollment in the program is mandated by the co-op. The changes have been based in science as well as a response to the customer-driven needs of the dairy supply chain. The need for the veterinarian to be intimately involved in every aspect of animal health and well-being on dairies has emerged as a cornerstone of the program. Your involvement is required.

But I hear all the time about veterinarians that are too busy or uninterested in working with dairies to develop protocols and deliver animal handling training. We do have a lot on our plate but we also have an obligation to safeguard the wellbeing of animals. Here is an excerpt from our own veterinary oath:

“I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering.”

Not only do we have an obligation, we have a liability risk. I have often wondered what would happen during one of the investigations of an alleged animal welfare violation if the herd veterinarian was interviewed. “How long have you worked for this farm?” “You mean you come here twice a month and you are okay with these conditions?” “If you don’t think this is okay, why haven’t you reported it?” I don’t think that is a situation that any of us wants to be in, but we all have likely been in situations where this could have happened.

I also hear of veterinarians that refuse to sign a Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship form because they don’t want to be responsible. A written, signed VCPR is a centerpiece of the current FARM 3.0 evaluation because documentation of this relationship is so important. This is a contract that says that you know the farm, its employees and its animals well enough to extend to them the ability to diagnose and treat their animals with prescription drugs. You have an obligation to list what the allowed drugs are, how they are to be used and be available for follow-up as needed. In exchange, the dairy agrees to use them as you have indicated and to keep complete written or digital records of their use. If you don’t feel that all of these requirements are being completed, you should not sign a VCPR. But you can’t continue to sell them prescription drugs without a VCPR and think that you are not responsible.

For years, we were the ones pointing out problems and pushing the dairy to change its practices. Sometimes it was a delicate balancing act between driving change and not losing your job. FARM 3.0 has given veterinarians an opportunity to switch sides of the field. Now the industry is requiring dairies to do a better job and veterinarians get to be agents of that change.

Your clients are asking you to help them and that creates a lot of opportunities for you. Don’t hesitate to get involved and help them with pain management, down cow handling, euthanasia and other challenges. Your clients are asking you to become a more integral part of their operation. Take them up on their offer and you just might find your practice growing.