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A study of three methods used to assess stockmanship on commercial dairy farms: can these become effective welfare assessment techniques?

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Abstract:

The modern dairy industry involves close contact between the stockperson and their animals and thus complex relationships develop between stockperson and cow. This study examines the assessment of stockmanship quality on commercial dairy farms and aims to develop useable protocols for on-farm assessment of stockmanship for inclusion in a quality-assurance scheme. In this study the behaviour of cows was used to assess the quality of stockmanship on fifteen commercial dairy farms, which varied in level of production and intensification. The behavioural reactions of cows to a novel human and the behaviour of the stockperson before, during and after milking were scored, and stockpersons completed a fifty-question psychometric attitude questionnaire, which was made up of seven subgroups of questions. Preliminary results indicated that stockpersons differ in the behaviour they use when handling cows. Stockpersons on zero-grazing farms appeared to use fewer positive tactile behaviours and more severe negative behaviour. The behavioural responses of cows in a novel human approach test differed between farm types. Cows on straw-court farms appeared to be more flighty and less confident in the presence of a novel human. Differences were observed in mean attitude scores for the seven subgroups of questions. Job type appears to have an effect on the extent of the stockperson's positive attitude toward cows, animals in general, job satisfaction and farm economics. The results indicate that there are differences in quality of stockmanship between farms and that the three methods chosen do identify these. They show that the human–animal relationship is a potential source of fear for cows in dairy production and therefore can be used to identify poor stockmanship.

Keywords: ANIMAL WELFARE; DAIRY COW; FEAR; HUMAN-ANIMAL INTERACTION; ON-FARM ASSESSMENT; STOCKMANSHIP

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2003-11-01

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