John Gloss, Dairy One & Keri Retalick, K·Coe Isom

Dairy farmers are in a market with an increasing expectation for high performance as well as transparency. High performance is critical to maximize revenue; achieving it means tight adherence to protocols. At the same time, dairy farmers are expected to meet or exceed consumer demand for transparency in the marketplace; this includes high standards of animal care and cleanliness to provide a safe and wholesome product. This transparency is important to maintaining the trust that consumers have in dairy farms. The need for transparency is further increased when stories highlighting poor animal care are broadcast in the media.  Many farms are using video cameras and monitoring as a tool to provide this transparency.

Video cameras have been used on farms for decades as more than just a provider of transparency, but mostly in a reactive fashion.  When something happens, you look back at the video to figure out what occurred.  This can be helpful in resolving disputes or validating insurance claims.  However, the most value is found in using proactive monitoring to head off issues and anticipate opportunity.  Here are some of the ways they have found to be proactive with monitoring.

What needs to be done today?
As farms continue to grow, farm managers are relying more on video throughout the day.  Cameras in the barn are used to see if fans and sprinklers are working, if the curtains are operating properly, and whether cows are out of feed now.  Cameras outside the barn are used to see if gates are open, if feed has been delivered, or if cows are in (or not) at a remote facility.  Managers can plan their day based on what is observed rather than having to drive to each area before formulating a plan.

Saved video for training
Training new employees and providing on going training for long-term employees can be a challenge.  Many farms report successfully using saved video to show new employees examples of how a task should be done.  The video provides reinforcement as well as assisting when a language barrier exists.  Using actual footage of the employee performing the task is also helpful for follow up and ongoing training.

Sharing the load
Farms are surrounded by a team of professionals who provide products and services.  Some farms choose to share access to video cameras with these service providers.  Nutritionists can view the feed bunks and feed mixing area.  Veterinarians can view calving and hospital pens.  In most cases they are not viewing the video every day, but they are able to add it to the periodic service they provide or focus on when there is a change.

Make it someone’s job
Consider making video review part of someone’s job.  This can be broken up by area of expertise.   Herd managers can view calving procedures to assure adherence to cattle handling, and calf care protocols.  Parlor managers can review milking protocol for proper prep and attachment, and cattle handling procedures.  Feeders can review feed bunk cameras to determine if feed is pushed up, and what the bunks look like at intervals during the day.  In all cases these people should know how to export video clips to use as examples of what they observed.  These clips can be used as supporting information for farm meetings, training tools, or a way to recognize outstanding performance.  A simple recording sheet to indicate the viewing was done can serve as feedback to the management team that monitoring is ongoing.   This practice will help keep animal care and performance at high levels.  The recording sheet and saved clips provide transparency into your day to day processes.  Involving the entire team at the farm helps keep everyone engaged and focused.  This is truly a win, win, win.

Third party monitoring
Many farms have opted to employ an outside entity to monitor their cameras and provide them with feedback.  This approach has been tried and tested on dairy farms across the country and the results have showed significant impact on productivity and risk alleviation.

Ken McCarty of McCarty Family Farms in Kansas says, “The video monitoring program allows us to not only correct deviations from protocol, but more importantly, highlight the positive things that happen on our farms at all hours of the day. This can be a tremendous training tool.”

“Third-party monitoring is a customized method based on specific operational standard operating procedures. A farmer can choose where the focus areas should be, including, but not limited to: animal well-being, production efficiencies, site security and worker safety,” says Emily Johannes, Director of ResourceMax sustainability services for K·Coe Isom. “The monitoring works with existing camera systems, or a camera system can be installed at your operation through expert technicians. It is the combination of flexibility and focus that produces both effective results and peace of mind,” she adds.

Agriculture-specialized video technicians monitor your videos via recorded clips, notifying you immediately of any egregious acts or unapproved security events, and providing detailed reports of observations. Issues can be resolved within the business, maintaining complete confidentiality. Video technicians are extensively trained to follow your specific operational protocols, as well as survey for issues from a consumer perspective to identify concerns from an objective point-of-view.

The benefits of a video monitoring program are multifaceted.  It has proven to reduce animal handling incidents by identifying issues and promoting a culture of good animal welfare. The program doesn’t just identify serious animal handling incidents, it also identifies when caretakers aren’t following protocols, such as moving a down animal. The advantage of knowing about issues in a timely manner allows managers to train employees and enforce policies before any further risk is incurred.

Video cameras can be a powerful tool in meeting the challenges of running a modern dairy farm.  Proactive video monitoring finds issues sooner and helps reinforce the positive work of livestock operation employees by identifying and highlighting the times they are going above and beyond to properly care for animals and exemplify a culture of safety and well-being.

Keri Retalick is a consultant at K·Coe Isom.  K·Coe Isom leads, nationally, as consultants and CPAs in the food and agriculture industry—services constituting more than two-thirds of the firm’s business. The firm is embedded throughout the U.S. food-supply chain—from policy to plate—working with farmers, input suppliers, processors, packagers, distributors, biofuel manufacturers, equipment dealerships, landowners, lenders, and many agencies and policy organizations that support the industry.
John Gloss is the Director of IT at Dairy One.  Dairy One is a leading provider of farm management information and information systems for dairy farms across the country.