Now stockmanship has to
Our Milk Special asks if sales of milk would rise if advertised, and looks at feeding to stay within quota. But first Philip Clarke finds out whats needed to qualify for Unigates superior stockmanship bonus
DAIRY farmers supplying Unigate direct will have to pay greater attention to animal welfare and stockmanship if they are to secure the best prices for their milk.
The company has decided the time has come to add teeth to quality assurance, introducing bonuses and penalties linked to each producers level of competence.
Known as Superior Stockmanship, the scheme forms an integral part of the revised Unigate Business Deal, due to take effect from Nov 1, 1997.
It is also indicative of the way other dairy companies are heading as they seek to reassure consumers.
"The scheme is all about achieving measurable standards of stockmanship, animal welfare and farm appearance, not just worthy words," says head of agricultural affairs, Brian Pocock. "Its intention is to be a practical marketing tool."
Superior Stockmanship is broken down into three parts:
• The six keys.
• The five freedoms.
• The farm inspection.
"Six keys" cover nutrition, herd health, staff training, stock housing, milking machine maintenance and action plans. The basic requirements are set out in a detailed reference manual, "intended to reflect the best scientific, practical and commercial routines, coupled with common sense".
Unigate suppliers will have to complete a detailed questionnaire, answering "yes" or "no" to 41 questions covering all six categories, to see how close to the standards they really are. This will be backed up with a vets checklist on dairy cow housing.
Payment will relate directly to individual achievement. A farmer answering "yes" to all questions in all six keys will be deemed to show "good" stockmanship and qualify for the full 0.3p/litre, (falling to 0.2p next April).
Five keys is deemed "acceptable". But producers only achieving four keys will get no bonus from Nov 1, and will have 0.2p/litre deducted from Apr 1, 1998.
The second part of the assessment relates to the "five freedoms" set out by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. These are:
• Freedom from hunger and thirst.
• Freedom from discomfort.
• Freedom from pain, injury or disease.
• Freedom to perform normal patterns of behaviour.
• Freedom from fear and distress.
The self-assessment includes 66 questions on these subjects, such as "Do newborn calves receive the recommended daily intake of colostrum?" and "Are teats always clean prior to milking?"
Scores of 60 points plus will qualify for a 0.1p/litre bonus, while those with less than 55 "yes" answers will have 0.1p/litre knocked off their milk cheques.
The third part is the farm inspection. This assesses milk storage, the parlour, health and hygiene, safety, record-keeping, farm appearance, security and public protection. There are 133 questions in this section, ranging from the condition of ceilings and girders to the state of the name board in the farm entrance. Chemical stores and electrical installations are also covered, as are drainage and effluent control.
"You are required to attain the highest scores possible as your farm is a visible part of Unigates supply chain to its customers," says the company literature.
Bonuses of up to 0.2p/litre are available for well-maintained units, with 0.2p/litre deducted from farms which do not make the grade.
To ensure Unigate suppliers are competent in completing the assessment, the company is running 120 training courses this year to bring them up to speed. Once up and running, farmers will have to complete and return the forms twice a year, by Mar 31 and Oct 31. Failure to do so will result in deductions of 0.5p/litre until the forms are returned correctly.
"There will clearly be an element of trust involved. But trials have shown our farmers are not inclined to abuse the system, taking a realistic and honest approach," says Mr Pocock.
To back the self-assessment up, Unigate milk supply managers will also make an annual audit of all farms, sometimes accompanied by an independent adjudicator. At least seven days notice will be given.
Under normal circumstances, there will be no charge for this audit. But if the inspector has to adjust the self-assessment and the farm moves into another payment band, then this lower (or higher) payment will apply to the previous 12 months deliveries, and an administration charge of £100 will be levied. There is thus a strong incentive for farmers to assess their units accurately.
But there are incentives of a more positive nature. Unigate plans to introduce a Sovereign Supplier award, worth 0.2p/litre paid in the following year, for those achieving top standards for 12 consecutive months. These include:
• All six keys and 60+ points under the five freedoms.
• Group 1 under the farm inspection scheme.
• TBC below 40,000 and SCC below 250,000.
• No antibiotic failures, no extraneous water and no hot milk.
• No fat and protein below 3.2% and 2.8%, respectively.
And, extending the concept of Unigates existing quality milk scheme, those making the Sovereign Supplier grade for several years will have that recognised with certificates, bronze statuettes and an annual dinner.
To help farmers towards these targets, Unigate is also linking up with Dalgety, offering a management advice and farm supplies package called White Gold Service.n
Unigate Superior Stockmanship (p/litre)
The six keys categories:
Nov 97 toApr 98
The five freedoms:
Below 55 points-0.1
Unigate farm inspections (p/litre)
Nov 97 toApr 98
115-133 points124-133 points
106-114 points114-123 points
Below 106Below 114