Fact! Increased human attention to the individual animal improves milk yield and cow behavior. On farms where cows were called by name, milk yield was found to be higher than on farms where this was not the case.
Increased human attention to animals and predominant positive contact are the key factors in improving the quality of human-animal interactions. Human-animal interactions can have profound effects on behaviour, productivity and welfare of animals, as shown in many scientific studies of different livestock species. Due to chronic stress, high levels of fear of humans can depress welfare and performance of animals. Furthermore, in situations where animals are fearful of humans and the attitude and behaviour of the stockman towards animals is negative, the stockman's commitment to surveillance and concern for production and welfare issues can be questioned. Nowadays, the recent rapid increases in stocking numbers on farms is a potential threat to the frequency and quality of human-animal interactions.
Understanding animal behaviour
Stockmen require a good understanding of how animals perceive their environment and how animals are likely to respond to various situations. Those stockmen who understand animal behaviour can reduce the animals’ fear and stress, and consequently improve productivity and ease of handling. Recently, three Dutch dairy cattle farmers experimented with changes in handling procedure and contact with their cows. They are now more aware of the consequences of their (handling) methods, and consequently their contact is more positive. On farm facilities have been taken into account, as this, affects cow movement and flow.
A combination of the CowSignals® and Quality Handling® training programs was used to familiarise the three farmers with the topic. Quality Handling is a training program that targets the attitude and behaviour of stockmen providing them with the potential to improve both animal productivity and welfare. Quality Handling emphasises the important relationships between attitude, human and animal behaviour, animal stress, productivity and welfare. Information is provided from international as well as on-farm research studies. An important component of this training is the advice on changing attitudes and behaviour and maintaining these changes. Quality Handling was developed within the European project Welfare Quality® and is also available for pigs and laying hens.