Can Stockmanship Training Improve Your Bottom Line?

Dr. Michael Payne

Dr. Michael Payne UC Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine and Director, Calif. Dairy Quality Assurance Program (CDQAP)

Among other changes, your next FARM evaluation requires documentation of annual stockmanship training for employees. Certainly low-stress cattle handling has been around for decades, with pioneers like Bud Williams and Temple Grandin describing basic behaviors like flight zones and point-of-balance. With employee training time at a premium, however, producers may justifiably wonder, “Does stockmanship training pay for itself?”

Some newer, more sophisticated research provides some important clues into the potential damaging effects of rough handling on production. Some studies indicate that milk yield can be reduced by as much as 10% when rough handling is used during cow movement. Excessive noise (shouting and slamming of metal gates) not only increases heart rate and anxiety in cattle, but can be comparable to the use of an electric prod.

An intriguing study of cow recognition demonstrated that cows not only remember rough-handling employees, but exhibited a 70% increase in residual milk when milked in their presence. An Australian study observed that forceful handing accounted for about 16% of the differences in annual milk yield between participating farms. This recent accumulated research suggests that low-stress animal handling training for new employees and annual refresher training for all employees could be valuable.

Dairy employee attitudes and practices are critical for providing proper animal care and cow productivity. It’s for this reason that CDQAP partnered with the California Beef Council on August 23 to offer a pilot train-the-trainer workshop in stockmanship training plan development on the Durrer family dairy in Modesto. The workshop’s goal was to introduce producers and herdsmen to resources and techniques they can use to tailor stockmanship training to their own farm.

 

Dr. Ron Gill from Texas A&M University used slides and videos to highlight important concepts that producers may wish to include in their own training programs. A review of training videos and documents available on-line as well as on-farm drill demonstrations of moving cows and heifers with low-stress techniques were also provided. The day finished with a discussion of the pilot workshop held over lunch served alongside the cows. The course slides and handouts are being collected for CDQAP’s animal care & economics webpage to be available soon and additional workshops may be offered in the future.