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Objectives: In contrast to quality assurance programs in industrial companies a similar model in animal and medical science is only starting to develop. Many farmers and veterinarians lack the awareness of quality assurance programs although they have major responsibility in the food chain. Standard operating procedures (SOP) play a major role in quality assurance programs in industrial production. They provide clear instructions so that fluctuations in product quality are reduced. The objective of this study was to gain insight into the organization of work processes and analyze the current use of standard operating procedures on German dairy farms.
Materials and Methods: In spring 2015, a questionnaire was handed out to 300 German dairy farmers attending 3 continuing education events. It consisted of 10 questions and 9 statements. In addition to general farm information (e.g. herd size, annual milk yield, number of employees) the participants were asked regarding the use of SOP (e.g., existence of SOP considering different areas and their documentation). Nine questions evaluated statements referring to how employees handle their tasks, to the documentation of work instructions and a potential interest in SOP available through mobile devices.
Results: Overall 96 questionnaires were returned (32%). On average the farms were milking 170 cows with an annual milk yield of 9.600 kg and a bulk tank somatic cell count of 190.000 cells/ml. Standard operating procedures were used on 91% of the farms, mostly in areas such as feeding, milking and calf rearing. However, only 51% (41/79) had a written version of their work instructions. On 61% (75/94) of the farms identical tasks were performed differently by different employees and 73% (69/95) of the farmers stated that certain tasks were being performed in a different way than intended by the management. During the creation of operating procedures veterinarians were consulted most frequently as external advisors (68%, 52/77). Nearly all of the surveyed farmers (96%, 89/93) were interested in improving certain areas on their farm and 67% (63/94) of the farmers were interested in using prefabricated SOP and adjusting them to their specific needs.
The majority (69%, 63/91) stated that there is not enough continuing education for the workers and 52% (48/93) did not think that creating SOP was difficult.
Conclusions: There is an obvious discrepancy between the motivation of the farmers to improve the performance on their farm and the expertise in realizing these goals and intentions. The agricultural sector is observing a trend to larger farms with more animals and a higher percentage of seasonal or migrant work forces. Those farms could benefit from the implementation of high quality SOP as these can help to optimize the management by standardizing the work flow and prevent losses in product quality, work quality and labor efficacy.