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1206 PD: Impact of human-animal interactions on farm animal behavior, welfare and productivity

Naomi Botheras Published on 08 December 2006

Extensive research in a number of livestock industries around the world has identified the impact of the interactions between stockpeople (animal handlers) and farm animals on farm animal behavior, welfare and productivity. Specifically, relationships between the animal’s fear of humans and productivity of animals have been found in the dairy industry and also in the egg, meat chicken and pig industries.

Significant sequential relationships have also been found in the dairy industry between the stockperson’s attitudes and behavior toward animals and the behavioral response of farm animals to humans (i.e., fear of humans). This relationship is depicted in the model in Figure 1* (page 20).

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While the impact of these human characteristics (attitudes and behavior) on animal productivity and welfare has been documented, human-animal interactions have also been shown to impact other important job-related characteristics. Job satisfaction, work ethic and motivation to learn may affect stockperson work performance and, thus, also affect animal productivity and welfare.

For example, during situations in which the attitude and behavior of a stockperson toward the animals are negative, the stockperson’s commitment to the surveillance of and the attendance to welfare and production issues is questionable. Ultimately, lack of job satisfaction because of the working conditions created by poor human-animal interactions may affect staff retention. Thus, the attitudes and behavior of stockpeople may have marked effects on animal productivity and welfare, both directly via fear of humans by the animal and indirectly via work performance of the stockperson.

In Australia, the newly revised Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals: Pigs recognizes that good stockmanship is the key factor to good animal welfare, because no matter how otherwise acceptable a system may be in principle, without competent, diligent stockmanship, the welfare of animals cannot be adequately addressed. Hence, stockmanship is at the core of the revised model code, and the code will propose new stockperson and staff training and verification measures to ensure good stockmanship and care for animals.

In the United States, the importance of good stockmanship and stockperson training is recognized in many of the animal welfare audit and assessment programs which have been developed for the dairy industry. For example, in the Dairy Quality Assurance program, the very first quality control point deals with producer and employee attitudes, knowledge and competencies and stresses the importance of training about appropriate animal handling.

Training of stockpeople as professional managers of animals has generally been ignored. In recognition of the vital role that stockpeople play in the overall health, welfare and productivity of the animals under their care and control, the Australian Animal Welfare Science Centre has developed Professional Handling (ProHand) training packages for stockpeople in the livestock industries, including the dairy industry. ProHand Dairy Cows targets the attitudes and behaviors of stockpeople, resulting in improved productivity and animal welfare.

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ProHand Dairy Cows is a validated training program that has been shown to be a very effective and specific tool for training stockpeople to minimize handling stress and improve both animal performance and welfare, through improvement of the quality of human-animal interactions.

The ProHand Dairy Cows training program aims to:

•develop an understanding of the impact of the interactions between stockpeople and farm animals on farm animal behavior, welfare and productivity

•outline why farm animals become fearful of humans and how this fear can markedly affect animal productivity and welfare

•identify appropriate and inappropriate behaviors of stockpeople towards farm animals

•demonstrate how to recognize fear in farm animals

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•provide professional handling guidelines which are designed to maximize animal productivity and welfare, as well as to ensure that farm animals are easy to move and milk

Benefits following training include up to a 5 percent increase in milk yield, improvements in ease of handling and milking cows and improved job satisfaction and work ethic, all without additional capital investment. PD

Naomi Botheras, Animal Welfare Extension Specialist, Ohio State University

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