Dairy stockmanship: Treat her like a lady
Posted on June 15, 2012 in Dairy Performance
By Jim Lewis I learned the concept of stockmanship at a very young age as I helped my grandpa bring up cows from the pasture. After years of working in the dairy industry, the importance of correct animal handling is even clearer to me. Stockmanship is defined as the interaction between man and animal. Poor handling skills are the result of a disconnection between people and livestock. This is often facilitated by technology and a lack of awareness by people. The key is to understand that every interaction a cow has with people is either positive or negative and that interaction will influence her future responses to you and her environment. Every time a dairy cow experiences stress, it will affect her performance. Pressure areas and flight zones Cows are naturally hard-wired to do certain things in certain ways. Pressure areas and flight zones are good examples of this. If you apply pressure correctly, the animal will respond as you wish. Directly behind the cow is a blind spot that will cause her to turn her head to see what is threatening her. Approaching in this spot may put you at risk for injury or impede her forward movement. Approach her from within her line of sight and the results will be better. Cows also have a broader range than humans in the frequency of kilohertz that they hear and respond to. Trying to reduce or eliminate loud noises, including whistling and shouting by staff, will help to minimize the adrenalin created in the animal. Likewise, cows like to return to the place from where they came. This instinct should be considered when designing load out areas and working areas for the herdsman and hooftrimmer. Rotary parlors utilize the following instinct of a cow to load in an orderly and calm fashion. This presents an animal to the milker that is ready to be milked, taking advantage of a good letdown and maximum flow in the first two minutes. Also consider the animal’s stage in life. A cow about to calve is extremely maternal. That means she can behave much more aggressively than normal and you need to use extra caution in maternity areas. Remember that springing heifers generally respond to a larger pressure zone and must be handled accordingly. Try to always give yourself an avenue of escape when assisting or moving an animal about to calve. Stockmanship and calves Stockmanship applies to working with calves as well, especially during transition periods. One of the most important times to carefully consider how you handle calves is when you move them from single pens to group housing. Make sure you acclimate the young animals and don’t expose them to too many stressors at one time (for example, don’t move them to group pens and wean them at the same time). Also, as simple as it may seem, show the calves where their feed and water are. Remember, cattle have very poor depth perception and things like curbs can be terrifying to them. Guiding them through those areas can go a long way. Does this seem really basic? When you hire someone new, do you assume he or she already has all of these skills? Not necessarily. Training We often make the assumption people know more than they do regarding handling skills. They may have the very basics skills, but later find themselves in a situation where they don’t know how to properly interact with the animal. This is dangerous for everyone involved – employees and animals alike. They may think they need to use force to handle animals, such as yelling or using prods. That’s not normal to the animal and it’s not an okay way to handle her. Every task can be performed in a safe and calm manner – and it yields instant results. Think of how you can boost stockmanship skills on your farm through training programs. Every employee, regardless of experience, should have some level of training. Think of it like this, you wouldn’t put an employee in a brand new piece of equipment without make sure they’re properly trained first. Then why wouldn’t you make sure your team is trained to work with your most important business partners? With training, you and your employees can become more fluent in interpreting what the animal is saying through her behavior. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask your team of consultants for resources on this very important topic. If you’re looking for a starting point, www.dairystockmanship.com is a great resource to learn the basics behind stockmanship. You’ll soon discover that very simple steps can have very big impacts on your animal well being, employee safety and your bottom line. About the author: Jim Lewis is a Vita Plus dairy field service specialist in northwest Wisconsin. He has an extensive background and practical experience in the dairy industry. From 1982 to 1995, he owned and managed a 180-cow dairy in Minnesota. In 1995, he transitioned those management skills to a start-up dairy facility, milking approximately 1,100 cows. He later worked as the manager of the Transition Management Facility (TMF) in Emerald, Wis., where he assisted in facility design, supervised advanced clinical and applied research projects in conjunction with the University of Minnesota, and taught physical examination and diagnostic skills in all aspects of pre- and post-fresh cattle to his fellow employees. At Vita Plus, Lewis’ goal is to work closely with dairy producers and provide expert knowledge of dairy cattle, feeding strategies, animal husbandry principles and management techniques.