“Animals are, in a way, a reflection of their owners,” said Amber Adams-Progar, a dairy management specialist at Washington State University. This statement has truth to it because we see it firsthand while working with cattle. Generally, when we think about moving or sorting cattle, it’s not always the job everyone wants to pick first. Getting animals to cooperate can sometimes be tricky, and some humans can become easily frustrated. When we get impatient, our animals tend to also become impatient. In a recent 1-29 Moo University Podcast hosted by extension specialists Fred Hall and Jim Salfer from Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota, respectively, they turned to Adams-Progar to provide her insight as to how to human behavior influences our cattle.

It's true when they say, “It all starts with you.” Your well-being affects more than just your family and your employees; it also affects your animals, Adams-Progar noted. When we get our attitude and stress levels in check, our animals take notice, resulting in calmer, less stressed herds. According to Adams-Progar, farmers who experience a lower level of stress saw increases in animal longevity and better animal reproduction. Cows remember people, especially their handlers. If you work with cattle, maintaining a good attitude is not only safer for you, but for everyone around you and the animal.

If you think about cows going in the parlor, you’ve invested in every drop of milk in their udder. If something happens that causes that animal distress, its body will react, resulting in a negative response, the dairy specialist cited. Cows are animals of habit, and they love sticking to a routine. If their routine gets tampered with, they will notice and become harder to move. Sometimes when a cow is experiencing chronic stress it will freeze up, making it even more difficult to get the cow to move. On some occasions, a cow may even charge, which is why human body placement is so critical when it comes to moving animals.

Although most of us have been around dairy cows for quite some time, it is important to understand that not all employees have had those same experiences. “What would you need to know if it’s your first time working cattle?” is one of the first questions to ask yourself when educating employees about handling cattle. Teaching hired help the basics about body placement, flight zones, and noise levels will ultimately prepare them to move animals in a safer manner. After all, the safest and best way to move cattle is by using your body. If nothing seems to work, introduce noise. If that is unproductive, Adams- Progar recommended using touch as a last resort. Even though noise and touch may get the animal to move, it is important to note that once initiated, the risk of injury will rise.

Moving cattle may not be the most appealing job on the farm, but it has to be done. To help make the handling process easier, mitigate as many stressors as you can to help prepare the animal for what lies ahead. Make sure everyone knows their role, have gates ready, and understand body placement and flight zones. Consider using a buddy system, don’t rush the process, and always be aware of your surroundings, including having an exit strategy in place for you and for others. “Ultimately, our goal is to emphasize that everyone’s well-being is important. It’s important to not only you but your animals, too,” encouraged the dairy specialist.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2024
May 20, 2024
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