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Dairy Farm Recommendations to Work During Novel Coronavirus Pandemic

By Martin J Mangual

Farms are moving full steam ahead amongst the pandemic caused by novel coronavirus, the virus that causes the infectious disease COVID-19.  The work of farms is essential and crucial to a society that relies on farmers to produce food in a safe way. Even during this time, farms still need to feed, care and look after their animals, fields or crops. Spring is a crucial time for dairy farmers that are required to re-stock their feed inventories in order to stay operational. While this crucial work needs to be done, there are still multiple steps farmers can take to protect their operations during this time. These recommendations are aimed at reducing the risk of novel coronavirus transmission to the farm operation and their team members.

Employee management recommendations
Labor is a vital part of the dairy farm, and certain changes can allow the farm to maintain a safe environment during this pandemic. Michigan State University Extension recommends avoiding new hires in the short future. If hiring is unavoidable, consider taking take time to review the candidate’s recent history of travel or previous place of work. This might help you understand and manage potential risk of infection. If possible, set the start date of employment at least 14 days after the interview and encourage employees to follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Michigan’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” policies prior to the start date. Another recommendation is to limit employee gatherings on the farm. We encourage that all in-person trainings be re-scheduled. If a new employee is joining the parlor, MSU Extension recommends using online trainings, formats such as Farm Employee University where employees could receive initial training in calf care, milking, animal handling and farm safety.

Another employee recommendation is to avoid making shift changes in the near future. This means that your parlor shift team are made of the same people, without changes. Explain to your employees that to ensure safety, shift swapping will not be allowed unless essential and will need to be discussed with farm management. In addition, your farm has multiple teams,. for example, each shift team in the parlor, the calf feeding team, etc. When possible, limit the interaction between different work teams and maintain each team on their own area of the farm. Establishing these boundaries can help minimize the interaction of employees and thus reduce the risk for disease spread among multiple areas of the farm. This also applies to the lunchroom or other common areas.

Finally, we recommend that you review CDC guidelines and information with your employees, along with Michigan’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order. Remember to include the symptoms of COVID-19 so they can be aware of potential infection, review social distancing recommendations and encourage hand washing and other good hygiene practices, whether they are on the farm or at home. This is also a good time to ensure that the farm bathroom is stocked properly with soap and paper towels for employee to follow recommendations.

The Milk Hauler
The milkman or milk hauler is a potential vector for the disease. It is expected that the milk hauler is following standard bio-safety practices as they travel from farm to farm. However, with the new risk of an infection to your employees, additional measures should be taken. Ensure that the hand washing station in the milk house is operating properly and that antibacterial soap is available for the transporter to wash hands on the way in and out. Establish this area as the biosecurity station on the farm for people going in and out of the facility (those that are not farm employees).  Provide gloves from the parlor so the milk hauler can use them while working in the milk house. Provide shoe covers or a shoe sanitizing station in the milk house entrance to allow for shoe disinfection. Finally, unless it is essential, do not let anyone in the milk house while the milk hauler is picking up milk. If communication is essential with your hauler, we encourage you to use the phone. If face contact is inevitable, practice social distancing guidelines.

Nutritionist
Maintain most of your communication with your nutritionist on the phone. When visits are scheduled, follow these recommendations:

  • Provide questions, discussion points or concerns by email ahead of the visit.
  • If a feeder or manager takes the samples, have it done before the visit and establish a location to drop them for the nutritionist (unless the nutritionist takes the sample).
  • Ensure that you provide the same biosecurity station described for the milk hauler.
  • Allow the nutritionist to perform the farm visit alone.
  • Perform a post visit call where changes, adjustments or other issues are discussed.

Veterinary visits
The following recommendations apply for pre-scheduled visits, not emergency calls. Ensure there is a biosecurity station for the veterinarian and follow the same guidelines recommended for the nutritionist and milk hauler. When an employee is needed to help with procedures, determine an employee responsible for this action and ensure, when possible, that it is the same employee (if this is not current standard practice on your farm). Encourage the employee to follow social distancing guidelines. When emergency calls are the reason for the visit, still enforce the biosecurity station before and after the visit. In addition, request that employees involved in the procedure also go to the biosecurity station after their involvement with the visit is finished and before they return to their workstation.

Suppliers
If is not current farm practice, design an area of the farm to receive all deliveries (exceptions can be made for feed and other supplies that have a specific drop-off place). Avoid direct contact with drivers and when possible, communicate by phone. When direct communication is essential, follow social distancing guidelines.

Educational tours or visits
MSU Extension recommends that those that are not essential personnel for farm functioning should not be allowed on farms at this time. This is to protect the farm, and to protect those that visit. We recommend that all tours and/or educational activities be postponed or moved to an online setting when possible (especially during the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order). There are multiple ways to perform virtual tours of your farm and multiple options to exclusively share those with a closed group.

Source : msu.edu