In the past two weeks a couple of e-newsletter articles came across my desk Their headlines caught my attention: "Man arrested after undercover video reveals alleged abuse at Perdue chicken supplier" and "New Mexico dairy employee sentenced in animal cruelty case". In both cases, the investigations were resulted from undercover videos and the operations and industries are paying a heavy price as a result.
Two things immediately come to mind as a result of reading these articles that we in the livestock industry need to be cognizant of and proactive in implementing. First is that we need to train our employees and family members on appropriate animal handling techniques along with having zero tolerance of any animal abuse within the operation. Second, we need to know who we hire.
Livestock Handling Resources
There are numerous resources available to train employees and family members on basic livestock handling for the species you raise. Many states have Extension specialists who work in the area of animal handling or teach animal handling courses, which you could call upon to help design a training program for your employees. You may also look to the commodity organization for the livestock species you raise. For example, in dairy production a majority of producers follow the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (F.A.R.M.) program, which incorporates the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines of animal handling into its program. On the beef side of production, beef producers follow the BQA guidelines. For swine producers it is the Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) program and for sheep producers it is the Sheep Safety and Quality Assurance (SSQA) program. Livestock haulers are also receiving certification in Transport Quality Assurance (TQA). All livestock commodity organizations have set forth guidelines for proper livestock handling and it is important to become familiar with industry accepted practices. You as the owner, need to make it a priority and follow the guidelines within your operation.
Training Employees & Family
Once you have the resources and taken the time to lay out protocols regarding livestock handling at your operation, you need to train everyone in the operation on what your protocols are. Make sure all employees who are handling livestock receive the training, even employees who have been employed for a long time. Document their attendance at the training (date, name, trainer, topics covered, and signature/initials). Before they handle livestock, take the time to train newly-hired employees from day one, regarding your protocols and the consequences of not following them. Do not be afraid to remove someone from a livestock handling situation before it escalates. When a person is not in the proper frame of mind to work with livestock, address the concern with the individual and provide positive suggestions on which technique to try differently. If need be, temporarily find another task for the person. We all have bad days and need to recognize that, however, livestock or other workers should not be the recipient of those frustrations, physically or verbally. Establish a zero tolerance policy on animal abuse and have all workers read and sign it. Lastly, lead by example! Make sure you are not providing a bad one. Actions will always speak louder than words and if you show a bad example then workers will begin to adjust their actions to match what they observe.
In hiring people for your operation, do your homework ahead of time. Hiring the first "warm body" off the street is not recommended. Be known as a place to work with a positive environment instead of the first place people leave. Develop a pool of applicants so you are not stressed looking for employees. Consider using internships as a way to recruit future employees. In this day and age, we absolutely need to take the time to do some background checks. This means following up with previous employers and references listed on the job application and asking for any felony convictions. You may also require that the person will pass a drug test as a condition for hiring. Often employers implement a probationary period when hiring individuals as a way to make sure an employee is the right fit for an organization and that the person is competent in the job requirements.
The Bottom Line
These tips will help you make sure you have hired and trained an employee who is not going to end up in the headlines. It is news like this that can possibly cause you to lose your operation or market access for the products you produce. Lastly, with regards to livestock handling and care you are the owner and need to establish acceptable and non-acceptable standard operating protocols at your operation while being the enforcer of "See It, Stop It".