Happier cows could help industry’s employment issues
1 March 2013
Happier cows could be one solution to industry’s employment issues
With more and more dairy farm staff entering the industry from urban backgrounds an animal husbandry expert says there has to be more emphasis placed on stockmanship skills, which start with managers and owners having farm policies that put animal welfare first.
DairyNZ’s animal husbandry expert Chris Leach and farm dairying specialist Mel Eden share a passion for interpreting cow behaviour and helping farmers get “inside the cow’s head.” By understanding their animals, they say farmers will improve job satisfaction for farm staff, animal health and the bottom-line.
In March the two experts will present a workshop called ‘Interpreting cow behaviour’ to more than 300 dairying women at the Dairy Women’s Network annual conference in Nelson – most of them farm owners and managers.
Mr Leach said the workshop would at times take a light-hearted view on a serious subject that was relevant even if people didn’t handle stock themselves, because farm policy is what dictates practice.
“Understanding that a cow is hardwired as a prey animal, which makes it naturally fearful and influences how it sees and reacts to the world around it, is not only a fascinating subject - we can use that information to help us become better stock people and have happier staff and animals.
“Research shows that happy cows produce more milk and decrease farm working expenses. If a cow is stressed in the yard, her milk let down can be affected for as much as 30 minutes. If milk let-down is compromised the likelihood of her getting mastitis increases and stressful situations such as overcrowding in the yard or being forced down the race can contribute to lameness.
“So understanding and allowing for the speed and formation in which cows walk to the shed will improve cow flow into the bail area, the cows will be happier, there’ll be less dung and less kicking. If there is a reduction in those two things milking becomes less of a chore, your staff are going to be much happier and more likely to stay in the industry longer,” said Mr Leach.
Co-presenter Mel Eden is considered a guru on the subject, having travelled around the world advising on dairy shed design to improve animal welfare and production, and mastitis control. He has worked in South America and Fiji, and presented in Australia and the UK. He is an independent farm consultant and also works closely with DairyNZ on its Milksmart programme, which aims to improve the wellbeing of animals and people by creating greater milking efficiencies in New Zealand.
“Farmers don’t deliberately mistreat cows by not considering their behaviour and environment – it’s just that it’s not necessarily front of mind in terms of operating the business. Some of the changes farmers can make are so small but make a big difference to the entire milking experience for both animals and people.
“For example cows remember clothing, not people – so if you are doing a job that is going to cause discomfort or pain for the cow like calving, don’t wear the clothes you wear to the milking shed, or suddenly milking is going to be a fearful experience for the cow and a totally different experience for you,” said Mr Eden.
“The cow is a complex animal. Yes, it learns to do as it’s told but it doesn’t necessarily do it happily if it is not being treated well – and there are usually things that can be improved in its environment.
“Most importantly though we need to get inside our bovine business partner’s head because we have more and more staff joining us from urban areas that haven’t grown up with cattle. Understanding cow behaviour will make their jobs, and yours, a lot easier.”
The ‘Interpreting cow behaviour’ workshop will provide practical learning for taking back to the farm including understanding the principles of bovine behaviour, discussing tips for handling bulls and recognising unusual behaviour that requires closer attention.
The Dairy Women’s Network conference kicks off in Nelson on March 20 and 21, with a world-class line-up of speakers covering subjects as diverse as environmental constraints, time management and developing future leaders. The conference theme is ‘Taking down the boundary fences’.
A sampling of other speakers include Olympian Mahe Drysdale; Hon Jo Goodhew, Associate Minister for Primary Industries and Minister of Women’s Affairs; Hinerangi Edwards, Trustee Parininihi Ki Waitotara (PKW ) Farms Limited; and the international queen of time management, Robyn Pearce.
To learn more about the Dairy Women’s Network conference visit www.dwn.co.nz or phone 0800 396 748.