Providing Answers, Ensuring Animal Well-Being
A unique team is working together to answer questions about livestock well-being and help resolve any issues on behalf of the public, farmers and their animals.
Iowa Farm Animal Care Coalition, or IFAC, is a program of the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Pork Producers Association, in cooperation with the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine. Four advisory council members are the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, the Iowa State Veterinarian, executive director of the Animal Rescue League of Iowa and president of the Iowa Sheriffs Association.
“IFAC was launched in 2013 as a centralized place for Iowans to contact if they have questions about farm animal care,” says Mike Telford (’76 animal science), executive director of IFAC. “Our shared vision is that every Iowa farm animal receives proper, humane animal care.”
IFAC provides a helpline for calls and an online form for inquiries about farm animal well-being. Inquiries come from many sources, and the concerns range widely, but are often related to routine production practices, livestock health or weather-related issues and transportation.
“Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about modern livestock production practices,” says Telford. “Much of my job is to educate about what is proper care for that species. When there does seem to be a problem, we work with producers to address issues, confidentially and in the best way possible.”
“Part of our job is also to help law enforcement by keeping issues off their agenda, and in the rare case where there is a serious problem, we can assist local authorities with expert information.”
FOLLOW UP WITH WELFARE IN FOCUS
A key member of IFAC’s advisory group and On-Farm Swine Evaluation Team is Anna Johnson, professor of farm animal behavior and well-being in the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State and former director of swine welfare for the National Pork Board. The On-Farm Evaluation Team also includes Iowa State veterinary medicine professor Suzanne Millman, who serves as ISU’s lead contact, and cooperating veterinarians who specialize in different livestock. The team is called in for the small number of cases identified for follow-up. When this happens, a farmer is contacted and must invite the team for a free, confidential assessment. Out of 76 inquiries since 2017, IFAC has conducted nine on-farm evaluations.
“Our role is to work with the marginal cases, where the wheels are just beginning to squeak,” says Johnson. “We try to be a resource to identify any legitimate problems and get them fixed when they are easier to manage.”
Johnson is proud of the different interests that have come together on behalf of the public and the livestock industry: “It’s been a very respectful process, and the farmers have been very welcoming and appreciative of the help they have received.”
“People care about animals and that’s not going to change,” says Johnson. “We want to give farmers the tools and resources they need to learn and address any issues. Our attitude is, let’s get better together.”
FLAGSHIP PROGRAM IN U.S.
IFAC, the only program of its kind in the United States, has been modeled after similar programs in Canada. Millman came to Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine familiar with one of those programs in Ontario. She pitched the idea to the Farm Bureau and the Iowa Pork Producers, whose farmer members saw the need. An advisory council was formed and detailed protocols were developed to guide the organization.
“Our role at Iowa State is to serve as an objective, independent third-party advisor with expertise in animal care standards and livestock health,” says Millman. “Situations that require our attention are rare and can be very sensitive. They are almost always due to extenuating circumstances, usually financial or health problems or weather-related issues. I’m really proud of how we’ve been able to work with farmers to get ahead of and resolve such situations to everyone’s benefit.”
Sara Payne, an Iowa State College of Liberal Arts and Sciences alum, agrees. As chief marketing and communications officer for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, she has been part of IFAC since the beginning.
“Agriculture touches everyone, but there’s often a disconnect between the public and farms,” says Payne. “Iowa farmers take good care of their animals and often go to extraordinary lengths to do so. IFAC is a great resource to engage Iowans in discussions about appropriate farm animal care and provide help if needed.”