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Human factors (attitudes, personality traits, self-esteem, job satisfaction) strongly determine our behaviour towards animals, animal production and animal welfare. Recent studies have emphasised positive human contacts as indicators of a stockperson's positive attitude towards animals
and towards animal welfare in general. Stockmanship can be improved by careful selection of people and/or by training. However, little is known of the biological basis of the effect of stock handling procedures on the welfare of animals. The animal's perception of the stockperson (based both
on emotional responses and cognitive aspects such as anticipation, recognition and categorisation), and the existence of sensitive periods in an animal's life, need to be explored in more depth, especially under farm conditions. We need to consider the complexity of human behaviour (eg husbandry
practices, balance between positive and negative interactions, predictability, controllability) and its effect on animal welfare from the animal's point of view throughout its whole life. This paper identifies the importance of positive human contacts for both animals and stockpeople, and
highlights the challenge to maintain such positive contacts despite the trend in modern agriculture to increase the number of animals per stockperson. This requires better knowledge of animal genetics, socialisation to humans during sensitive periods, and management of the social group. We
emphasise the ethical importance of the human–animal relationship in the context of farm animal welfare and productivity.