Improving cattle handling procedures and facilities can help cut down on stress and injuries to dairy animals, particularly heifers. Aerica Bjurstrom, Agriculture Agent for the University of Wisconsin, Kewaunee County, says the following are indicators that heifer stress is too high:
- My animals are getting injured.
- My animals are frightened when I handle them.
- Cattle are balking at equipment and people.
- People working with the animals are uncomfortable.
- Working animals is inefficient and takes too much time.
Bjurstrom points out that heifers have much larger “flight zones” than cows and tend to become agitated quickly. She says stressed cattle have lower immunity, digestive functions and fertility. Ironically, vaccination and breeding are two of the most common reasons for handling heifers.
Cattle also have eight times more sensitive hearing than humans, but have a hard time deciphering the source of the sound.
Designing facilities specifically for handling can reduce stress and make handling safer and more convenient for both animals and workers. Options may include headlocks; palpation rails; a squeeze chute or self-locking head gate; or a combination of these tools. Bjurstrom recommends asking the following questions about plans for new or retrofitted handling systems:
- Is it sturdy and safe?
- Does it take advantage of natural cattle behavior?
- Is it accessible to the animal?
- Is it convenient for human workers?
- Is it cost-efficient?
A comprehensive set of presentation slides by Bjurstrom on heifer handling can be found at http://sheboygan.uwex.edu/files/2010/08/CattleHandlingOptionsforHeifers-Aerica.pdf.