Pheromones can remain even when the animals are gone. That’s why cattle may become jumpy when unloading into an unfamiliar setting. “They step off the trailer, pick up the pheromone messages, and display their fear,” says Lewis.
Stockmanship proponents suggest that dairy cattle of all ages can benefit from the practice, starting with young calves. Particularly for calves raised in individual hutches, their socialization with humans is important, and should continue throughout their adolescence.
Good stockmanship can ease the transition of springing heifers into the milking string.
While there is little research yet proving that stockmanship can make a difference in dairy herd performance, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence. When Lewis took the time to introduce newly arrived transition animals to their surroundings, their dry-matter intake was maintained or increased at a stage when it typically drops off. “I firmly believe that keeping those animals eating consistently made the transition smoother for them and helped them avoid a variety of metabolic problems,” he says.
A case for training
Lewis says some simple stockmanship practices work almost instantaneously, which makes real believers out of the human trainees.
For example, “I recently was on a dairy and the young man letting cows into the parlor was standing in exactly the wrong spot. By simply repositioning himself, cow entry and flow changed almost immediately,” he says. “I could see the light bulb go off for that person, which is really gratifying.”
Höglund and Lewis suggest that every dairy can benefit from first-hand stockmanship training, and every person who works with animals should be encouraged to participate.
It’s money well spent.
“Most dairy owners would not think of allowing an employee to jump on a $250,000 piece of equipment and start running it with no training,” Lewis says. “Yet we often turn them loose with groups of cows that have equal or higher value, with no idea how they function. Workers need to be taught how cattle ‘operate,’ too.”
The basics of stockmanship
Stockmanship experts Don Höglund and Jim Lewis share the following insights:
1 Field of vision. Because their eyes are located somewhat toward the sides of their heads, cows have excellent peripheral vision and can see 340 degrees. However, because of the boney-mass surrounding the eyes, approaching cattle directly from behind, in their blind spot, can be startling to the animal and dangerous to the handler. If possible, always let the animal see you. This means we are most effective as handlers if we direct cattle movement from the sides of the animal rather driving them from directing in back of them.