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Don’t let your dairy be the next animal welfare scandal

Keri Retallick for Progressive Dairyman Published on 13 April 2017

It wasn’t expected. There was no plan to respond, but you’re the highlight of a social media experience – a negative experience. The video shows a cow being hauled several hundred feet, all four feet off the ground, from an alleyway to a hospital pen.

Perhaps no one ever trained the employee on humane down cow handling, or perhaps that employee did receive training and even signed a pledge years ago, but those protocols were long forgotten, and they certainly weren’t demonstrated in a video posted for the world to see with your farm’s name on it.

Don’t be the next dairy to fall victim to a scene like this. Prevent it now by providing regular animal welfare training and retraining sessions with workers to test and track their understanding of protocols.

Why provide regular animal welfare training?

The reason to train employees on a regular basis is because animal welfare is a combination of facilities and people. Things are always changing on the farm; there are updated facilities, new technologies and new people. As we adopt new technology and update best management practices, it is important to train our employees on these changes. When management commits to training as a pivotal point in their management plan, fewer deviations occur in processes. “Don’t let the bad become the norm,” Temple Grandin, renowned animal welfare expert, stated.

Understanding the tasks and their welfare risks is a commitment by everyone to understand the care of all the animals including calves, milking cows, special needs animals and market animals. Training plays a pivotal role in managing risks associated with tasks that may be completed incorrectly. Changing behavior is the goal of a comprehensive training. It is important to create a team so all employees work together to solve problems before they happen, whether it’s a hurt or abused animal or a caretaker being placed in harm’s way. Training your employees on your processes and protocols can reduce and alleviate injuries to both humans and animals. Always take time to review your training, and always allow feedback for constant improvement. For best results, it is important to train your employees and test them on their understanding of what is expected.

“Inappropriate handling episodes occur when handlers don’t understand how to perform the task,” Dr. Tom Noffsinger said, speaking at the International Beef Symposium.

Who, what , why, when, where and how?

Properly training your employees takes more than a checklist. When looking at training, consider the who, what, why, when, where and how concept, but not necessarily in that order. “Who” is responsible for training and “who” is to be trained. Management must be engaged in order to provide training to all employees responsible for the animals.

There are several avenues to demonstrate “how,” but it starts with a protocol. The protocol provides consistency for performance of any specific task on the farm. Many employees don’t understand the “why.” Why are we training on animal handling? One of the key answers to the “why” is prevention. “What” are we trying to prevent? We’re trying to prevent pain, injury or fear in how we handle our animals. More importantly, it is for the safety of the employees. We hear it all the time from owners and managers that their employees and animals are their most highly regarded resources. If that is true, then you must take the steps to prevent injuries or pain.

Of course, the “where” is typically on the farm, but it could also be attending a conference or webinar. “When” can be at new hire training, and everyone else should receive at least annual training. Some farms utilize weekly meetings or monthly or quarterly sessions. No matter the format, it is important to understand that training is not a “one and done” activity.

The biggest question on training is “How?” How do I go about training my employees? It starts with a plan to train new employees as well as a time line for annual refreshers. It can be classroom sessions or on-the-job training. The key is there isn’t always a lot of extra time on the dairy, so the training needs to be concise, accurate and have the ability to improve the culture of your dairy.

Train, test, track

Due to limited time and potential turnover at the dairy, employees are often given a quick review of a task and then sent out to conduct the task. At the very least, always go through the farm’s animal welfare policy and have every new employee sign the policy. In addition, this should be repeated on an annual basis with all employees. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and it is a great way to remind your employees of everyone’s commitment to animal welfare and care.

Lastly, it is important to have a dependable and easily managed program that you can use to assist with training and documentation of your program. A training that provides a testing component for competency is extremely important. Documenting the training, which is sometimes a manager’s nightmare, can be seamlessly managed with an appropriate tracking component.

Remember, in order to keep good employees, they need to be trained in their area of responsibility, tested to prove their competency and tracked for documentation.  end mark

Keri Retallick
  • Keri Retallick

  • Vice President of Design and Development
  • Praedium
  • Email Keri Retallick

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