Beef: Writing a Standard Operating Procedure for Calving

The Beef Checkoff Program has funded the National Beef Quality Audit since 1991. These audits are conducted approximately every five years, with separate audits conducted on fed cattle and market (cull) cows and bulls. The audits provide the industry with a set of benchmarks and measurements relative to the quality of the U.S. beef supply.

In the most recent audit of the fed cattle segment (, a nationwide survey was conducted specifically to assess Beef Quality Assurance-related production and management practices adopted by the seed stock, cow/calf and stocker sectors. The results of this survey found that: “Though 95 percent had some level of routine vaccination and treatment protocols, only 31 percent had a written plan. Greater emphasis must be placed on documentation.”

With calving season in full swing, I thought it would be useful to discuss what level of documentation should be implemented on beef farms.

The standard operating procedure (SOP) is a document used to provide guidance on specific and routine tasks for those involved in performing those tasks. A quick Internet search shows that SOPs are extremely common in medical, industrial and nonprofit industries. In animal production, the purpose of an SOP is to ensure food safety, animal welfare and farm sustainability.

Established SOPs are used to:

1. Tell what, how, when, why and who.

2. Ensure consistency in practices and that they are done on a prescribed schedule.

3. Ensure worker safety.

4. Serve as a training document.

5. Serve as a historical record of changes that have occurred.

Development of an SOP should be done by all those involved with the farm operation, including family and paid labor. It should be written much as you would a recipe. Think about the specific operations that occur and in what order they occur. Your goal is an SOP that ensures the procedures are done the same way every time. Once written, your veterinarian should review it. The final version should be kept in a location that’s readily accessible to those who will be performing the tasks.

Tasks that should be developed into SOPs include but are not limited to: routine vaccinations; treatment for pinkeye, foot rot and respiratory disease; biosecurity for herd additions; and euthanasia.

The Cornell University Pro-Dairy Program has published a template for writing an SOP; it’s available at Your veterinarian may also have one available.

Below is an example of a calving SOP developed for the Beef Unit at the Cornell Ruminant Center (formerly Cornell T&R). It is not intended to be used on your farm, as it is specific to Cornell conditions.

Writing an SOP is your commitment to providing a safe, wholesome product while assuring that you are using the best animal husbandry practices available.

A successful beef cattle calving season requires careful attention to cows before, during and after the birth. Cover Photo by Kim Stockwell-Morrison.

image of a sop