One of the most common causes of employee injuries on dairies is cattle. These injuries are a result of human-dairy cattle interactions that went wrong. Providing dairy cattle handling training is the first step in preventing cattle-related injuries. While many different training formats are available, including videos and lectures, which training improves cattle learning? We often focus on providing the most effective training for employees that we forget that training cattle is also beneficial. Cattle are capable of learning during training. I collaborated with two veterinarians at the University of Pennsylvania (Dr. Michaela Kristula and Dr. Meggan Hain) and an expert handling trainer (Dr. Don Höglund) to conduct a study aimed at determining how weaned heifers respond to training. Our research was published last month in the Journal of Extension (https://joe.org/joe/2019august/rb8.php) Below are some highlights about what we learned:
- Relationship between heifer walking and slipping behavior – We conducted a series of handling tests during our study, in which we herded the heifers from one end of their pen to the opposite end of their pen six consecutive times. Heifers that walked during handling were significantly less likely to slip. This is one reason it is important to move cattle slowly. (Adams Progar et al., 2019)
- Facing and approaching the handle – Heifers that faced the handler during the tests were more likely to approach the handler. If heifers face the handler, then they are not facing the direction of their destination. Approaching the handler is counterproductive to safely moving cattle, as we rely on an animal’s flight zone to move them safely. (Adams Progar et al., 2019)
- Facing and approaching the handler– It was interesting to note that when heifers faced the handler, they were significantly less likely to walk during handling. (Adams Progar et al., 2019)
- Repeat handling affects heifer walking behavior– We conducted handling tests over the course of two days so that all 36 heifers were handled on both days. While only 56% of heifers walked during tests on the first day, 75% of heifers walked during tests on the second day. Repeated handling of weaned heifers may help with their handling ease. (Adams Progar et al., 2019)
- Time of day affects heifer walking behavior– Over the course of both training days, all heifers were handled once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Fifty-four percent of heifers walked during the morning tests, and 78% of heifers walked during the afternoon tests. (Adams Progar et al., 2019).
- Fewer occurrences of slipping occurred in afternoon-Fourteen percent of heifers slipped during handling in the morning and 4% of heifers slipped during afternoon handling tests. Training heifers during the afternoon may be more effective than training during the morning. (Adams Progar et al., 2019).
- Type of handling training affects heifer walking behavior– Handlers who received the lecture only training had 34% of heifers walk during tests; however, handlers who received the hands-on workshop in addition to the lecture had 81% of heifers walk. (Adams Progar et al., 2019).
- Type of handling training affects the occurrences of slipping during handling-Handlers who received only the lecture training had 17% of heifers slip during handling, but handlers who received the hands-on workshop had 5% of heifers slip (Adams Progar et al., 2019).
Adams Progar et al. 2019. Dairy cattle handling Extension programs: training workers and cattle. Journal of Extension https://joe.org/joe/2019august/rb8.php.
Sorge et al. 2014. Perception of the importance of human–animal interactions on cattle flow and worker safety on Minnesota dairy farms. Journal of Dairy Science 97:4632–4638.
Editor’s note: This article appears in The September issue of the WSU Dairy Newsletter can be viewed at http://dairynews.puyallup.wsu.edu/2019/09/23/september-2019-wsu-dairy-newsletter/