Assessing risk factors and creating standards for health can help producers achieve efficiency and consistency 

Raising healthy animals is the goal for livestock producers. But how can producers achieve a healthy herd or flock? Writing up standard operating procedures, or standard operating protocols, for health issues and maintenance can be beneficial for both people and animals.

What are SOPs?

Standard operating procedures, or SOPs, are documented step-by-step instructions that an organization has in place to help people carry out routine operations consistently and efficiently.

Many producers may find they already have some form of SOP in place – programs and protocols are terms that are frequently used to reference what is essentially a standard operating procedure. Farmers and ranchers can save time, money, and hassle by drafting SOPs for many aspects of agriculture.

Establishing Animal Health SOPs

Creating SOPs can seem like a daunting task. University of Missouri Extension Veterinarian Dr. Craig Payne advised producers to break it down into manageable steps and start with risk assessment. 

“Get an idea of the risk factors, and put things in place to address them,” Payne advised. He explained risk factors will differ by farm. For example, a producer with a closed herd will have different bio-security risks, and therefore procedures than an open herd producer who frequently has animals coming and going. Animal health practices a producer might create SOPs for include vaccinations, calving, lambing or kidding, quarantining a new or sick animal, etc. 

Payne noted the majority of operations can, at minimum, benefit from creating a bio-security SOP, and encouraged producers to evaluate risk factors in that area. Depending on the size of the operation, getting a team together of employees, family members, and veterinary and Extension professionals familiar with the farm for input on SOPs can help make the task more manageable, Payne suggested. 

A written the plan is crucial, as is having the SOP in an easily accessible location for all parties involved. A binder in a central location or in a computer file saved to a sharing server such as Dropbox or iCloud are a couple of ways producers can store their animal health SOPs. 

Once a producer has animal health SOPs established, Payne suggested an annual review of the protocols. However, like many things, SOPs can constantly evolve and change, and some situations might require a more immediate review of and change in protocols. 

Why Are Animal Health SOPs Important?

Payne explained SOPs contribute to efficiency, consistency and speed of animal care and treatment. 

“Last-minute planning can be risky in and of itself,” he said. “Having SOPs in place helps avoid rushing around last minute.”

Time is often critical when it comes to animal health emergencies, and sick, injured or distressed livestock stand a better chance of recovery if treatment is administered quickly. Animal health SOPs can benefit everyone who is involved with the farm. In the event of an emergency or routine practice, everyone knows what to do and how to do it consistently. Even for a small operation, SOPs are beneficial to have in the event that a producer must leave the farm for an extended period of time. Whoever takes care of the animals in the producer’s absence will have step-by-step instructions to keep things running smoothly. 

Another reason SOPs are important is because giving animals the best care possible is simply the right thing to do. SOPs allow a producer to do that while also documenting and showing their consumers their stock have a high-quality of life. 

“The agriculture industry faces a lot of scrutiny from outsiders,” Andy McCorkill, MU livestock field specialist explained. “The animal side in particular has, at times, received a black eye because of the perception of squeezing every penny out of the animals we raise at their expense. We need to do everything possible to keep that negative image from being a reality.”

“We’ve reached a point where the market is demanding healthy animals because morbidity costs the industry a lot of money. Animals that have a verifiable history of vaccinations, nutrition, and genetics will simply bring more money than comparable animals that don’t.”


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