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Dairy stockmanship covers interactions between cows and people, and when practiced effectively, creates a safe and efficient work environment; it also improves animal health and production. Therefore, understanding how cows experience the world can help improve dairy stockmanship practices and makes moving cattle on your farm easier. Everyone should be trained in basic stockmanship skills to increase work efficiency, reduce stress on cows and people, and also reduce lameness and injuries.
Cows are creatures of habit and they respond better if they have a routine that is consistent and predictable. While an unfamiliar feature of the dairy may initially provoke fear, cows will learn to become familiar with that feature over time. If things are constantly changing, a cow will not be able to adjust, and the cow’s sensitivity will be heightened, making her overly fearful of people, a particular location or physical structure.
Cows have good short-term and long-term memories, and will readily learn a variety of tasks. This characteristic is one reason why cattle respond well to consistent handling routines.
Strong physical or emotional experiences (good food, fear, pain) are likely to result in long lasting memories. Cattle learn to associate people or locations with rewarding or negative experiences.
There are a number of factors that provoke fear in cows: fear of heights, sudden movements and noises, threatening or aggressive actions, prolonged eye contact, and large or towering objects. Fear responses should be minimised by appropriate handling behaviour and good dairy design.
The effects of fear can have a significant impact on the efficiency and productivity of the milk harvesting system and can result in the following:
Pain, stress, and fear are all animal welfare issues and need to be avoided if possible. Not only are they ethically unacceptable, but there are local community and international market expectations to meet.
Fear causes the release of the hormone adrenaline into the blood stream causing a ‘fight or flight’ response.
Adrenaline primes the body for action by increasing the heart rate and blood flow to the muscles. It also blocks the action of the milk ‘let-down’ hormone oxytocin. This effect can last up to 30 minutes from a single release of adrenaline.
For more information on milk let down click here.
The dairy needs a good entry, exit and platform to ensure smooth access and no surprises.
Eliminate all factors that could cause cows to shy away from the dairy entry or exit such as:
Learn about cow behaviour to help you understand how the handling of cows can affect their willingness to enter the dairy. Observe cows during a milking to see if platform design, including pipework and layout, encourages good cow flow on entry and exit.
During certain times of the year, particularly spring, it’s highly likely the herd will be organised into multiple mobs. It’s important to manage these mobs in a way that will minimise impact on the milking routine. The mobs could include any combination of the following: main milking mob, dry cows, springers, colostrums/sick cows (e.g. mastitis and lame cows).
Understanding how cows experience the world differently to us can make moving cattle much easier on your farm. Everyone should be trained in basic stockmanship skills. It will help increase work efficiency, reduce stress on cows and people, and also reduce lameness and injuries.
Poor cow flow is not usually a problem with the cows, but a problem with the environment. If cows are consistently slow on tracks and races, investigate the cause and correct it.
If cows have their heads raised when they are moved, or in the yard, it’s a sign that too much pressure is being placed on the herd and they are too tightly packed. They will be unable to watch where they place their feet or to avoid more dominant cows.