There is a lot of information out there these days on farming practices. I cannot even imagine being a consumer and trying to wade through to find the truth. One thing I have found after many conversations is that many people tend to think if a farm is not organic that is somehow unregulated. With that comes the assumptions that conventional dairy farms or any conventional farm do not care for the animals or the land. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Farming practices vary from farm to farm. In fact, you will never find two farms that farm the same. Regardless if the farm is organic or conventional, it is regulated. Regulations vary from region to region, state to state, even country to country. The end result however is the same, protect the natural resources and livestock.
We have a series of inspections each year that we have to adhere too.
- Nutrient Management– Each spring the Department of Agriculture shows up at our farm to inspect our “Nutrient Management Plan”. The primary focus of the plan is “water quality” while properly managing cow manure, dairy waste water, etc.
- We are required to have our manure tested each year. Once the manure is tested, we will receive documentation letting us know the components of the manure which helps us determine how much manure to apply to the soil.
- We are required to document all manure that leaves our farm or is applied to the farm ground that grows the very crops that feed our cows.
- National Dairy FARM Inspection– A new program in which I am excited to be part of is the National Dairy FARM Program. This program focuses solely on animal welfare. This program focuses on every aspect of the cows life from birth through milking. The inspector evaluates everything from how a calf is cared for directly after birth to body condition of the milk cows. Do cows have adequate food & water? Are they clean? Is their housing conditions sanitary? If you have employees, are they trained properly? It covers all aspects of our farm.
- We have an inspection every three years.
- At any point in time we can have a third-party audit.
- Washington State Department of Agriculture– A yearly random, unscheduled inspection primarily focused on sanitation of our milking facilities (where we milk the cows) and milk house (where the milk is stored). During this inspection all our equipment is inspected inside and out. Sanitation is key. In addition, the facility where the cows are milked is required to be clean. The milk house where the milk is stored must be clear of personal belongings, dirt, spider webs, etc. This inspection is done multiple times throughout the year. During this inspection, they also take water samples to ensure our water source is free of harmful bacteria as it used to clean all our milking equipment after each milking.
- Federal Inspection- This inspection has the same standards as the state inspection. It is an inspection that comes every two years. It is a random, unscheduled inspection. This is not a pass/fail per farm. This inspection is based on each region in our state. This is an overall assessment of all the licensed dairy farms in the region. It is the same inspection as the state, but it is an overall evaluation of the region. It is a pass/fail based on an average score of all the farms in that region. If the score does not meet expectation, no milk can be shipped FROM ANY FARM IN THAT REGION until all farms are re-evaluated and the collective group passes.
In addition to these inspections, our milk is “inspected” on a regular basis.
- A milk sample is taken prior to any milk leaving the farm or entering the truck for transport. That sample is sent to the cooperative lab to be tested for overall quality and antibiotics. Note: Antibiotics are used as a last resort and in order to treat illness in dairy cattle.
- A milk sample is taken at the plant prior to unloading the milk. That sample is immediately tested for antibiotics. If any antibiotic trace is found, that milk is disposed of. In addition, the farmer responsible for the tainted milk will have to pay for any milk from any other farm on that truck that his/her milk tainted. Read more here on antibiotic testing. Also, read this blog post I wrote for CommonGround on the steps we take in ensure our milk is antibiotic free.
- Farmers can also purchase an antibiotic test kit (there is a variety of options) that is kept on farm as an extra tool to keep our milk supply safe.
In addition to all these inspections, there are many programs that farmers can participate in to improve or continue stewardship efforts on their farm/ranch.