For the purpose of this article, an animal welfare crisis is the release of a video to the media showing obvious mistreatment of cows or calves. Farmers do not want their animals mistreated, and they certainly do not want documentation of such on the internet. Processors and retailers do not want this either. The FARM program was, in part, instituted to help prevent such events, and almost all dairy farms participate in the program today. Yet animal welfare crises still happen. What more can a dairy producer do?
    How about adapting safety management principles to prevent a crisis? This means treating a welfare crisis like a hazard, or accident, and developing a plan to minimize risks. For an example of how this works, let us take a look at the FARM program’s safety management program and substitute animal welfare crisis, or AWC, for safety in the text. The FARM management checklist, with some paraphrasing, then looks like this:
    - The farm has a written AWC plan.
    - The farm’s written plan includes the following fundamental elements: Owner and management commitment, employee participation, ongoing hazard recognition/control and training.
    - Employees know how to report animal welfare or AWC concerns.
    - The farm reviews its AWC written plan annually.
    - The farm follows a process for identifying and controlling AWC hazards on an ongoing basis.
    - When an AWC hazard is identified, the farm evaluates the degree of risk, for example likelihood and severity. The farm also implements a consistent method to prevent and control it.
    - AWC inspections are conducted on a regular basis.
    - The farm keeps records of and investigates welfare or AWC incidents and near miss events.
    - The farm follows a consistent process for conducting incident and near miss events, and documents investigations.
    - All new employees receive welfare and AWC training.
    - Employees receive refresher AWC training on a regular basis and following an incident or near miss.
    - AWC training is documented.
    - Indicators are used to measure the effectiveness of the farm’s AWC program.
    - The farm reviews the results of the indicators on a regular basis.
    Part of the AWC plan might include screening new hires for any tendencies toward animal mistreatment, calling all listed references to specifically ask about treatment of animals and looking carefully to determine if the individual could be an undercover activist. An animal welfare incident is not exactly the same as an animal welfare incident released to the media, but combining the two as an AWC allows one to examine the risks for both types of events at the same time. For example, it is possible to have a welfare event without a media release, but it is also possible to have a media release without an actual animal welfare event, assuming the event was fabricated or coerced.
    It is not likely that FARM or any other animal welfare auditing systems will eliminate AWCs. Humans are fallible and can do bad things. Farms with a lot of employees are at greater risk because of this. Managers need to recognize this and use tools to mitigate risk. Perhaps it is time to develop an animal welfare crisis management plan for your dairy.
    Bennett is one of four dairy veterinarians at Northern Valley Dairy Production Medicine Center in Plainview, Minn. He also consults on dairy farms in other states. He and his wife, Pam, have four children. Jim can be reached at with comments or questions.