New York State Cattle Health Assurance Program (NYSCHAP): Cattle Welfare Program

Rincker Law Food & Ag Law 3 Comments

I first heard about the New York State Health Assurance Program (“NYSCHAP”) last January at the New York Beef Producers’ Assocation (“NYBPA”) annual meeting in Syracuse.  After an inquiry about the program from a New York cattle producer, I had Kathy Finnerty, the program’s coordinator, send me informational materials about NYSCHAP.  As I said in this article, I recommend that cattle producers in New York (dairy and beef) participate in voluntary animal welfare programs.  An example here in New York State is the NYSCHAP program through the NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets (“NYSDAM”) and Cornell University Extension Education.

The core module from NYSCHAP helps to:

1.  Define farm goals and areas of concern (e.g., herd health, biosecurity);

2.  Assess the farm risks;

3.  Develop a herd plan along with a NYSCHAP-certified veterinarian by implementing best management practices (“BMPs”) to help achieve farm goals;

4.  Implement the herd plan (documentated by a NYSDAM or NYSCHAP-certified veterinarian); and,

5.  Evaluate improvement on a quarterly basis.

There are also disease specific NYSCHAP programs (e.g., Bovine Viral Diarrhea, Salmonellosis, Johne’s Disease, Mastitis, Leukosis, Foot Health) that I recommend for herds that have had chronic cattle health issues.  Furthermore, NYSCHAP offers an interesting expansion module for herds that would like to evaluate whether the operation has sufficient management, land, and water resources to handle the strain of increased cow numbers.  I particularly like that this program also looks at the financial health of the farm before recommending expansion.  In addition, NYSCHAP offers a unique market cow and bull quality program  which focuses on helping cattle operations reduce beef quality defects at harvest (e.g., antibiotic residues, injection-site lesions, hide defects).   

However, I especially want to highlight NYSCHAP’s cattle welfare program.  This program complements prior recommendations that I have made to New York cattle producers.  Not only does NYSCHAP address national cattle welfare concerns (e.g., nonambulatory cattle) but also state specific livestock animal welfare issues.  Similar to other NYSCHAP programs, the cattle welfare module requires the participation of a herd veterinarian.  The program requires producers to train farm employees on correct animal handling.  Moreover, the module dictates the preparation of standard operating procedures (“SOPs”) for non-ambulatory cattle (i.e., cattle that cannot rise or walk), euthanasia, hospital animals, newborn calves, lameness, and routine/elective surgical procedures (e.g., castration, dehorning, teat removal, and tail docking).  To complement this, the cattle welfare program offers goals and scoring for lameness, hygeience of housing facilities, cattle handling, and body condition scores.  In order to remain active in the certification program, cattle producers must request recertification every 10-14 mos. from the date of enrollment.

Participation in programs like the NYSCHAP cattle welfare program serves several purposes.  First and foremost, it provides a defense against livestock animal cruelty charges.  I particularly like that the program mandates participation with your herd veterinarian and accurate record-keeping for to memorialize noted improvements in areas such as body condition scores and lameness.  Second, it helps to improve the public image of beef and dairy production to New York consumers.  With so much negative literature on modern agriculture production, participation in programs such as NYSCHAP helps make the public feel more confident that livestock are handled with proper care.  Keep in mind that urban (and rural) consumers that know little about agriculture are our voters and law-makers.  Third, participation in the NYSCHAP cattle welfare certification can be used as a great marketing tool.  Notably, attention to proper cattle handling already positively affects an operation’s bottom-line; however, the certification can also serve as a nice bullet point on advertising materials or plug at a farmers market. 

For more information on NYSCHAP please contact Kathy Finnerty, New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, Upper Tower Rd., Ithaca, NY 14853, kdf2@cornell.eud, 607/253.3910. 

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