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0107 PD: Implementing health management protocols

Richard L. Wallace Published on 10 January 2007

The current trend in animal agricultural food production is to look at “process control” rather than “product control.” Process control can be defined as how the food is produced, whereas product control means how the product turns out. Consumers, in general, have great confidence in the quality of agricultural food products, but they are becoming more aware of agricultural production practices. This awareness has led to increased concern over how their food is produced. Dairy producers that have implemented written health protocols will be on the leading edge of assuring consumers their food is being produced in a manner in which they can abide.


Some examples of programs that emphasize process control include the Milk and Dairy Beef Quality Assurance Program, the Pork Quality Assurance Program and HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) programs used in the poultry industry. HACCP is a system created in the late 1950s by the Pillsbury Company as they prepared to provide food for space flights. They recognized contamination of space-bound food was an unacceptable hazard. The thought of an astronaut with a case of salmonellosis while stuck in a space suit for three days was a hazard they wanted to avoid.

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End product testing (product control) did not provide enough certainty that the food sent into space was absolutely free of hazards. So Pillsbury settled on developing a system of describing the processes used to produce a food and then, through scrutiny of every step in that process, came up with the points and practices by which introduction of a hazard could be prevented. Today, HACCP has been adopted by food manufacturers and has become the basis for USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), resulting in a 50 percent reduction in salmonella in processed poultry and 30 percent reduction of E coli.

HACCP principles are used to develop a framework to manage the points in the process to prevent “hazards.” There are seven steps for implementing a modified HACCP program, including:

1. defining the goal for the operation
2. describing the activity or operation (diagrams or flow charts)
3. identifying the potential hazards
4. describing preventive measures
5. establishing critical limits (benchmarks)
6. establishing monitoring procedures
7. determining corrective actions

Measuring, monitoring and recording are essential to this process.

Process control concepts can be useful for any management system on a dairy including employee management, waste management, animal health, nutrition programs, reproductive procedures, biosecurity or virtually any other aspect.

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A process can be defined as a collection of activities that takes one or more kinds of inputs and creates an output that is of value to the user. On a large scale, cows and feed can be considered inputs while filling the mixer wagon and delivering the TMR can be considered activities. The output is milk that brings value to the dairy farm.

The efficiency of a process can be limited by bottlenecks. Bottlenecks are any resource whose capacity is less than the demand placed upon it. Bottlenecks can control the rate of output for the operation. Time lost on a bottleneck is time lost for the entire system. Any nonbottleneck running more efficiently than a bottleneck absorbs the excess capacity that could be redirected to more efficient use. Any time saved at a nonbottleneck is a mirage.

For a process to improve, the first-limiting bottleneck must be reduced or eliminated. But the whole system should be optimized, not just isolated parts. The quality of any process is a function of the amount of variability induced into the system. Understanding the sources of variability and eliminating those sources can reduce the variation in the output and improve profitability.

Establishing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for disease conditions is an attempt to reduce the variability in managing sick cows and improve the treatment successes of your procedures. The advantages of developing SOPs on dairies allow managers to find out what is currently being done. After the discovery process, changes can be made to ensure consistency and reduce variability.

In the end, the dairy will have a written record of what is being done that can be useful for training and retraining purposes. There will be a significant investment of time in developing SOPs, and this is one of the biggest disadvantages. Hands-on experience is the best way to develop SOPs. Additionally, there can be an increased amount of paperwork necessary to make SOPs work.

There are four keys to successful implementation of health protocols:

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1. comprehension
2. time
3. cost
4. culture

Farm staff must understand why they need to perform each step of a specific protocol. Staff meetings to explain the health and economic reasons for initiating a protocol are essential.

Protocols must be convenient and feasible to be completed within the daily work schedule. This is where managers need to put themselves into the shoes of the employees to get the proper perspective of their requests. If a procedure is too much trouble for the manager to perform one time, it is most likely too much trouble to expect an employee to perform on a regular basis.

Protocols must be economical for the dairy operation, and ideally they will minimize the amount of work or labor required to complete the tasks.
Finally, the protocols must become part of the culture of the dairy operation. The protocols must become as second nature as milking or feeding cows. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request.

—From 2006 University of Illinois Dairy Days Proceedings

Dick Wallace
Dairy Extension Veterinarian

Q. Do farms struggle with implementing health monitoring protocols? If so, why?

Many farms have struggled with implementing health monitoring protocols. They get enthused for a short time, then the program fades away or other priorities arise.

For them to be valuable to a dairy farm, they have to be performed consistently. To achieve consistency, they have to be implementable (feasible, efficient, effective).

To contact Dick,
e-mail him at or call him at (217) 333-2907.

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