Oct. 25 2019 08:30 AM

It takes more than a lecture to effectively teach cattle handling skills.

Working with family on the farm can be rewarding and enjoyable . . . until you need to move a cow from Point A to Point B together. Do any of you ever feel this way?

All joking aside, cattle handling can be stressful for people and animals if not done well. We all know that some people are simply better at working around cattle than others. The best cattle handlers have a combination of patience and natural talent, along with an understanding of cattle’s normal preferences and instincts.

In recent years, some emphasis has been placed on training people how to move cattle, especially for those individuals who may not have grown up working with animals. Not all training is created equally, though.

Amber Adams-Progar, an assistant professor at Washington State University, and Michaela Kristula and Meggan Hain, from the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School, conducted a study to determine if the type of training affected animal behavior in response to the handler. Their work was recently published in the Journal of Extension.

In their small study, handlers either received a) face-to-face classroom lecture training; b) a face-to-face lecture and a hands-on workshop; or c) a video-based lecture. After being trained, the participants entered a pen of heifers and were given an animal handling test. Adams-Progar highlighted some of the results in a recent Washington State University dairy newsletter.

They found that handlers who only received a training lecture had 34 percent of the heifers walk during the test. This compares to 81 percent of heifers walking for the handlers that received a lecture plus hands-on training.

Walking during handling is important because animals that move slowly are much less likely to slip, Adams-Progar explained. In their study, handlers who only received lecture training had 17 percent of the heifers slip during the test; just 5 percent slipped for handlers who had hands-on training.

Adams-Progar noted that training isn’t just for people; animals can be taught to be better at moving as well. In their study, they noticed differences in the number of heifers that walked on the first day of testing (56 percent) compared to the second one (75 percent).

If you are trying to improve cattle handling on your dairy, this study is a reminder that the most successful training would include both classroom and hands-on components. In addition, don’t undervalue the animal training component of effective handling, either.

Abby Bauer

The author is an associate editor and covers animal health, dairy housing and equipment, and nutrient management. She grew up on a dairy farm near Plymouth, Wis., and previously served as a University of Wisconsin agricultural extension agent. She received a master’s degree from North Carolina State University and a bachelor’s from University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Special silage hybrids webinar: Hoard’s Dairyman invites you to a special webinar – “Guidelines for Selecting a Silage Hybrid” presented by Pioneer on Monday, October 28 at noon (Central). With a focus toward dairy nutritionists, Bill Mahanna will provide an overview of the agronomic and nutritional factors to consider when selecting a silage hybrid. Register at this link.