After a recent AHDB Dairy webinar with the legend that is Temple Grandin we were reminded how beneficial getting the basics of animal handling right can be for humans and animals alike. Here are 10 ways that better animal handling will improve your business:

1. It’s the right thing to do

We all have a responsibility to look after the animals under our care that, ultimately, pay all of our wages. Several of the Five Freedoms of animal welfare can be directly related to how we handle our animals; freedom from discomfort, freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from fear and distress. The way we handle and behave towards our animals can impact on all of these areas. As Dr Gordie Jones says; “animals don’t have problems. All their problems have a first and second name.”

2. Happier staff

By understanding how animals think, their natural behaviours and instincts and working with these, the farm team can get better results for less (but more targeted) input. This has to be a good thing to keep people happy and less frustrated!

3. More productive animals

Less stressed, more content animals are more productive. For example, stressed or fearful dairy cattle release less Oxytocin therefore reducing milk yield and increasing the amount of milk retained in the udder. There is also work that describes the negative effects of stress and injury on meat quality.

4. Less accidents and injuries (people and animals)

We all know that farming is dangerous for all concerned but there is a lot we can do to minimise this risk. Cattle and sheep are very good at navigating a safe path though obstacles and over varied terrain if they are given time, can see where they are going and know where they are expected to go. We can utilise these innate skills when moving cattle on our farms in order to increase safety and minimise accidents.

5. Quicker handling

By working with the natural behaviours of animals, for example appreciating the strengths and limitations of their vision and their herd instincts, much quicker throughput of animals in group handling situations can be achieved. Just 2 examples of where this can be of obvious benefit are faster milking through better milk let-down and quicker TB testing through better movement of animals though the race. This is a classic example of less haste, more speed.

6. Easier handling

Once familiar with certain aspects of animal behaviour, such as the awareness of flight zones and the ‘point of balance’, it is possible for a single individual to move animals with only small movements in their relative position and without the need for shouting and sticks.

7. Less stress

There is no doubt that animals experience fear and stress and I’m sure most people would agree that we have also experienced these unpleasant emotions at times. An animal that has had a previous bad experience will maintain these associations for the future; for example a particular person or with what happens in the milking parlour. This results in stress in anticipation the next time which can cause stress in the person, further worsening the situation. This cycle of
increasing stress can be broken for both human and animal if handling is approached in the correct way.

8. More pleasant working environment

I’m sure that most people would agree that a quiet working place is a much more pleasant place to be than one filled with persistent, angry shouting, the sound of cows slipping and skidding and the banging of metal-work. I would bet that the cows would agree as the former farm tends to be populated by calm cows and an example of the latter farm full of cows that go everywhere at 100 miles and hour and kick-out with little notice. I think we can all relate to these two extremes.

9. More rewarding

Whilst not everyone is going to become an animal behaviour geek, like Dan, gaining a greater understanding of how animals think and interact is rewarding. It can also be a great area to focus on for team training with instant results when everyone buys-in to the concept.

10. Less disease

As we have discussed, more stress equals less oxytocin and more retained milk which will increase mastitis risk and elevate cell counts. Another example of how cattle handling and movement can increase disease is lameness; use of the backing-gate as a pushing device or over-crowding of cattle will not only increase the risk of injuries but the greater shearing forces on the hooves will increase the incidence of White Line Disease. Overcrowding, particularly in the collecting yard, in the warmer months will also increase the risk of heat stress and the disease that follow.

As you can hopefully tell, we feel passionately that better animal handling is an area worth investing in. This need not be in expensive infrastructure necessarily but a huge amount can be gained by investing in the team and the culture on your farm. In this respect and we are available to help develop bespoke training for your farm.