Dr. Naomi Botheras, Animal Welfare Extension Specialist, The Ohio State University
Extensive research in a number of livestock industries around the world has identified the impact of the interactions between stockpeople (animal handlers) and farm animals on farm animal behavior, welfare, and productivity. Specifically, relationships between the animal's fear of humans and productivity of animals have been found in the dairy industry, and also in the egg, meat chicken, and pig industries. Significant sequential relationships have also been found in the dairy industry between the stockperson's attitudes and behavior toward animals and the behavioral response of farm animals to humans (i.e., fear of humans). This relationship is depicted in the model in Figure 1.
Figure 1. A model of human-animal interactions.
While the impact of these human characteristics (attitudes and behavior) on animal productivity and welfare has been documented, human-animal interactions have also been shown to impact on other important job-related characteristics (Figure 2). Job satisfaction, work ethic, and motivation to learn may affect stockperson work performance, and thus also affect animal productivity and welfare. For example, during situations in which the attitude and behavior of a stockperson towards the animals are negative, the stockperson's commitment to the surveillance of, and the attendance to, welfare and production issues is questionable. Ultimately, lack of job satisfaction due to the working conditions created by poor human-animal interactions may affect staff retention. Thus, the attitudes and behavior of stockpeople may have marked effects on animal productivity and welfare, both directly via fear of humans by the animal, and indirectly via work performance of the stockperson.
Figure 2. Job-related characteristics may also be affected by human-animal interactions.
In Australia, the newly revised "Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs" recognizes that good stockmanship is the key factor to good animal welfare, because no matter how otherwise acceptable a system may be in principle, without competent, diligent stockmanship, the welfare of animals cannot be adequately addressed. Hence, stockmanship is at the core of the revised Model Code, and the Code will propose new stockperson and staff training and verification measures to ensure good stockmanship and care for animals. In the U.S., the importance of good stockmanship and stockperson training is recognized in many of the animal welfare audit and assessment programs which have been developed for the dairy industry. For example, in the FIVE-STAR Dairy Quality AssuranceSMprogram, the very first quality control point deals with producer and employee attitudes, knowledge, and competencies, and stresses the importance of training about appropriate animal handling.
Training of stockpeople as professional managers of animals has generally been ignored. In recognition of the vital role that stockpeople play in the overall health, welfare, and productivity of the animals under their care and control, the Australian Animal Welfare Science Centre has developed Professional Handling (ProHand) training packages for stockpeople in the livestock industries, including the dairy industry. ProHand Dairy Cows targets the attitudes and behaviors of stockpeople, resulting in improved productivity and animal welfare. ProHand Dairy Cows is a validated training program that has been shown to be a very effective and specific tool for training stockpeople to minimize handling stress and improve both animal performance and welfare, through improvement of the quality of human-animal interactions.
The ProHand Dairy Cows training program aims to:
- Develop an understanding of the impact of the interactions between stockpeople and farm animals on farm animal behavior, welfare, and productivity,
- Outline why farm animals become fearful of humans and how this fear can markedly affect animal productivity and welfare,
- Identify appropriate and inappropriate behaviors of stockpeople towards farm animals,
- Demonstrate how to recognize fear in farm animals, and
- Provide professional handling guidelines, which are designed to maximize animal productivity and welfare, as well as to ensure that farm animals are easy to handle, move, and milk.
Benefits following training include up to a 5% increase in milk yield, improvements in ease of handling and milking cows, and improved job satisfaction and work ethic, all without additional capital investment.
In collaboration with the Animal Welfare Science Centre, The Ohio State University is introducing ProHand Dairy Cows training programs for stockpeople on Ohio dairy farms. If you would like to receive further information about these training programs or to enroll for training, please contact Naomi at (614) 292-3776 or firstname.lastname@example.org.