Farm security on all fronts takes on new urgency
By Darren Turley
TAD Executive Director
How secure is your farm? Today’s dairy farms are being attacked by a new type of enemy — zealots disguised as eager new employees who, once hired, will encourage other employees to engage in activities that go against animal welfare standards followed on today’s dairy farms.
I know that none of you ever thought you’d have to scrutinize every applicant about their interests, alliances and passions about animal issues. But today we have to change how we look at security when it comes to employees. Cameras are now being used to oversee employee actions all across the farm, not just in the milking parlor.
How many access points does your farm have? Do you have biosecurity and no trespassing signs posted? Do you have a plan if strangers or protestors arrive at your farm? Do milk trucks traffic patterns encounter animal traffic lanes? Are the milk trucks accessible to visitors at any time?
Protestors visited the Hopkins County Dairy Festival in June and then actively searched for accessible dairy farms with the intent to take pictures and post misleading information on social media. These types of events are becoming more common on animal agriculture operations across the country. A bill was proposed – but did not pass – during this spring’s Texas legislative session that would have strengthened the penalty for trespassing on ag operations and consider it a terrorist action, due to the possible biosecurity impacts to the nation’s food supply. There already is discussion about refiling this bill when the Texas Legislature next convenes in 2021.
New processing facilities and dairy expansions are being planned across the state. Whether you’re expanding or not, take time to scrutinize the layout and access of your facility from the view of an outsider who wants access. Not only do dairy farmers need to worry about biosecurity, but they also need to be concerned about employee actions. Be vigilant in hiring practices. Look out for and investigate applicants that seem out of place. Check references beyond phone numbers provided on the application. Research them on social media. These extra screening steps take time, but they are critical today. Also, don’t forget to communicate with your neighbors if you have suspicious applicants or activity.
Many of you have longtime employees who you trust implicitly. They might be your biggest safeguard against undercover activist employees. Make sure your staff is thoroughly trained in safe and healthy animal handling practices and provide periodic refreshers. Encourage employees to adhere to the “See it? Stop It!” program when it comes to animal abuse or suspicious behavior and give them a way to confidentially report it to a supervisor. Ask employees to sign animal welfare practice agreement, and a non-disclosure or confidentiality agreement that prohibits taking pictures or videos while on-the-job. Some dairy farms prohibit the use of cell phones while working, which also encourages the employee to focus on the job and limits distractions as well.
Times have changed, and the need for security on dairy farms has changed with it. Whether it is employee scrutiny and surveillance or farm access, every dairy must be diligent. The industry continues to change and evolve. This is an important area that will take additional management and oversight to protect your cows and your farm in the future.