Bulletin #1066, Standard Operating Procedures on Your Dairy Farm: Prepare Now!

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Information for COVID-19

Richard Kersbergen, Extension Professor, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Adapted with permission from Ireland’s Farm Relief Service and Francis Quigley, Farm Machinery and Milking Machine Specialist, Teagasc, Agriculture and Food Development Authority, Ireland

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cows drinkingDue to COVID-19, we are now in unprecedented times. Actions that we thought might be a good idea before are now becoming a must-do.

We all are likely to see changes to the way we work and some of us are inevitably are going to become sick or have to go into isolation over the coming weeks. Having a plan in place for such a situation is critical, especially for smaller farms with a limited trained workforce.

Cows are still going to need to be milked, and animals will still need to be fed and kept clean. It is important that you put in place a backup system with a friend or neighbor who might be able to help if you and your family have to go into isolation or need emergency health care. University of Maine Cooperative Extension is working to develop a list of volunteers to help, but these people will need clear and easy-to-understand instructions to maintain your farm and keep your animals healthy.

It is important to understand that if your situation changes, it will probably happen very quickly and you will not have much time to put plans in place at the last minute. This, coupled with the stress of such a situation, will more than likely mean that you will miss out or give poor directions on key tasks. You may also have to give instructions over the phone rather than face to face.

To make the transition as easy and as smooth as possible, we highly recommended you put several SOPs, or Standard Operating Procedures, in place now. Write down the sequential steps for jobs that need to be done, in a clear and orderly list. It might be something as simple as quantities of feed that various animal groups are getting and the number of times per day they are fed.

If your cows get various rations, and need to be fed using farm equipment, make sure the instructions you provide are clear and all the equipment that will be needed is in decent working order to minimize breakdowns. Make lists for each group of cows, heifers, and calves and what they need to be fed. If you have protocols written down, then it will be easier for people filling in for you to understand your management practices if you need to clarify or communicate with them via phone. Make a list of potential contacts who are important, such as your grain company and/or your nutritionist, the veterinarian, AI technicians, dairy equipment service dealer, etc.

Milking procedures will probably be the most complex area for a new person to understand. Every farm has a different system, with a large number of valves, switches, and procedures that need to be followed. The controls on your system will be very different than your neighbors’. Equipment washing procedures, including the bulk tank, chemicals used, and timing, are all things you may take for granted, but a new person walking in to help will need clear guidance.

Now is the time to write out a step-by-step guide of various tasks such as:

  • Setting up for milking, including simple steps such as making sure the bulk tank is turned on!
  • Washing milking equipment after milking.
  • Bulk tank cleaning after milk pick-up.

Make sure controls are clearly marked. Find a way to indicate in what order switches must be initiated. Use bright waterproof tape or markers, and make a key if you just use numbers. You may want to take pictures of controls and switches. It is much easier to identify things if you have a picture rather than trying to describe it over the phone! All chemicals used in cleaning should be labeled. Teat dips should be labeled and stored away from cleaning chemicals so as not to create any confusion.

It may be extremely useful to have someone video your key procedures for all operations on the farm. These short clips will be invaluable to people trying to quickly learn your operation. When making the videos, perform your tasks in “slow-motion” so people can follow along easily. These video clips can be uploaded to YouTube or sent via other messaging apps.

Prepare a step-by-step list of your milking routine, including precautions workers will need to follow, such as using gloves, and how to handle problem cows. If you use a whiteboard for updating cow status, including treated cows, high SCC cows, cows with blind quarters, etc., make sure it is updated regularly. You should also indicate to new milkers that “if in doubt, throw it out,” especially when it comes to treated cows!

Provide the protocol you use for pre-milking prep, such as pre-dip, strip, wipe, etc. Hopefully whoever is stepping on to your farm will have some milking experience. Mark  treated cows, using paint, leg bands on both legs, etc. Additionally, provide updated lists of necessary precautions that should be followed in your routine.


  1. Get prepared now! Even if you don’t become ill with COVID-19, it is always a good idea to be ready no matter what happens. Remember, if you do get sick, your neighbors and friends who usually help you out in emergencies may be sick as well!
    • Have a full set of instructions (include pictures and videos) for day-to-day activities. These include feeding, cleaning the barn, bedding, milking machine, and skid steer or tractor use.
    • Prepare a marked farm map, so people understand the facilities and locations of equipment, feed, mineral supplements, necessary medicines, first aid kits, tools, etc.
  1. Provide a list of relevant information including:
    • List of protocols and procedures, and order of activities on the farm, including times of milking, feeding milk pick-up, etc.
    • Contact information for important resources, including, veterinarian, nutritionist, dairy processor support personnel, milking equipment dealer, AI technicians, grain company, other family members, dairy coop field staff, etc.
    • Precautions that need to be taken, such as hazards on the farm that may not be as obvious to new personnel walking on the fam such as if a bull is in a pen, manure pits, and various dangerous areas.
    • Any expected events, such as expected calvings.
    • Any quirky machine operations that you take for granted, such as tricks to get certain tractors to start or machinery to operate.
  1. Look for potential back-up now!
    • If you have some local people (or family members) who are willing to come to learn your procedures, it might be a good time to train them. If you do have people “shadow” you now, follow CDC guidelines for distancing. Make all communication non-contact. Keep the “one-cow” distance recommended and provide masks and gloves if possible. This is to protect both you and whoever is learning!
    • Have your back-up workers take pictures and videos of your procedures so they can refer to them later.
    • All communication should be non-contact if possible.
  1. Get your farm ready.
    • Make sure your farm can be as safe as possible for new people coming on to help
    • Provide necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), such as nitrile gloves for working and milking, disposable hearing protection, and prepare a boot wash station so workers can clean their boots coming and going. Clean and disinfect handwashing stations and make sure soap dispensers are full
    • Provide a mechanism for all surfaces to be disinfected before a new person arrives to take over the operation. These include:
      • all door handles and switches;
      • all milking machines, tools, switches, and bulk tank controls;
      • tractor steering wheels, controls, levers, etc.;
      • all tool handles and implements;
      • bucket handles, calf bottles, etc.; and
      • hoses and other necessary pieces of equipment.


UMaine Extension


Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 2020

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