Last week at the American Forage and Grassland Council’s Annual Meeting in St. Louis, MO, I got to listen to a talk by Dr. Temple Grandin. Dr. Grandin is recognized worldwide for her work in animal handing and behavior. On her website for Livestock Behaviour, Design of Facilities and Humane Slaughter, there is a wealth of information, videos, and even translations of some of the information into Spanish and German. 



The talk that she gave last week reviewed some of the general guidelines for animal handling. The points I found to be the most important to pass along were:

  • It takes an animal 20 to 30 minutes to calm down from a stressful encounter. Stress can affect milk let down, eating behavior, meat production, and the safety of animal interactions. So, in the case of dairy cows, a great example is how are animals handled on the way to the parlor. If animals are stressed by the person bringing them to the parlor (lots of yelling or whistling, hitting, or making cows run) and it takes less than 20 to 30 minutes for the animal to enter the parlor for milking, milk let down can be a problem, and poor milk let down leads to teat end damage, increased milking times, and possibly mastitis.
  • Cows can be trained by rewarding good behavior, just like many other animals, and well-trained cows are safer for everyone. Dr. Grandin’s example was that if you are moving animals and they are pushy at a gate, then wait for them to stop. The other part of this is that “slow is faster”. If you take your time moving animals, being calm, and moving small groups, you can make your work easier.
  • Know your animal’s flight zone (how close you have to be to get the animal to move). In general, the flight zone for dairy animals this will be less than for beef animals. However, of you keep animals on pasture for extended periods of time with no human interaction, like heifers or dry cows on pasture in the summer, the flight zone can change. Knowing the flight zone makes it easier and safer to move your animals.
  • If cows will not enter an area, it is often easier to figure out why than to try to force them to enter. Is the area too dark, is there an area of sunlight shining in, is there water to smell or taste, is there something making noise and moving in the wind? Correcting the obstacles to animal movement will make is easier. If it is something that cannot be corrected, allow the animal or the lead animal time to check it out rather than trying to force them by.
  • The first experience in a new place should be a good one. Animals have a pretty good memory, and if the first time in the parlor or holding pen they fall or are scared by a person, they will always have a problem entering the area. Training heifers or new cows to a parlor before their first milking can make the day they get milked the first time faster and easier for everyone involved.

This was a great talk to have a chance to see and always good information to hear again. Reviewing good animal handling practices with staff is never a bad idea. There are some great videos available on Dr. Grandin’s website.