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Hostile Handling Can Cause Fear and Reduced Milk Yield

Dairy Pipeline: May 1999

Gerald M. (Jerry) Jones
Extension Dairy Scientist, Milk Quality and Milking Management
Virginia Tech
(540) 231-4764

Aversive handling causes dairy cows to become fearful of these people and reduce milk yield. Studies conducted by Agriculture Canada researchers at Lennoxville, Quebec, evaluated cow behavior when cows were handled by an aversive person or one who was gentle. Cows moved around more during milking when handled by the aversive milker and produced less milk because of reduced or delayed milk letdown. The aversive treatment consisted of forceful striking the cow on the head or side with an open hand, use of a cattle prod on the flank, striking the cow on the horn region and flanks with a plastic flat surface, and shouting at the cow. Gentle treatment included brushing the cow, offering hay and barley mixed with molasses, and speaking in a gentle voice. The authors conclude that care should be taken not to evoke fear in cows and to ensure that the people responsible for cows find the least aversive means of handling them. Cows respond negatively to nervousness, hitting, yelling, and milkers who are tense and unpredictable in their motions and demeanor. Cows are more comfortable with a person who is quiet, moves at ease, and is steady. Handle cattle gently: avoid roughness, slapping, light hitting, shouting or sudden movements that frighten cattle. Talk in a quiet, gentle voice with gentle patting and stroking. The difference may only be 2 lb. milk per cow daily, but in a 100 cow herd that adds up to $9,000-11,000 in a year. Milkers need to be patient, considerate, dependable, quiet, dedicated, persevering, and consistent.

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