Management and stockmanship

The daily management of a dairy operation requires the stockman to interact with the animals many times a day. Dairy stockmanship is the study of these interactions as well as the implementation of low-stress cow handling techniques to improve the outcomes for both the stockmen and the animals.

Good management and stockmanship of the herd are two essential inputs into the milk production process. The effect that human factors have on herd performance should not be ignored.

The design of the housing system, in particular, handling facilities will have a considerable effect on the way the stockmen carry out their duties.

Stockmanship skills

Stockmanship is the effective two-way communication between a cow and a person. The cow will always be consistent in her responses; the person is the one who can misinterpret. A basic understanding of animal behaviour is important for all stockmen and it is particularly important when designing and operating any cattle handling facility. 

 Everyone handling cattle should be:

  • Able to use the handling and other safety equipment provided
  • Aware of the dangers when handling cattle and be supervised until they are competent
  • Able to work calmly with the cattle, with a minimum of shouting, impatience or unnecessary force
  • In good health and properly trained in safe work methods

It is important to understand the basic needs of the cow: cows want to move in the direction they are heading in, they want to follow other animals, they want to see what is pressuring them and they want to return in the direction they came from. Walking with cows will tend to slow them down and/or stop them. Walking against cows will tend to speed up their movement. Communication should be effective, cows have very little patience if the stockmen attempt to communicate with them improperly and will become confused by his actions. Skilled stockmen should take the basic, natural movements of the cow into account.

Training of stockmen

It is advisable to ensure all stockmen are appropriately trained in tasks which they are expected to carry out.

Standard Operating Procedures should be designed and encouraged to be followed, and the importance of staff following set methods should be explained.

Each herd should also have a written health and welfare programme. This should set out health and husbandry activities covering the whole of the yearly cycle of production. The programme should be reviewed and updated at least annually and should be available for inspection by enforcement authorities.

Stockman safety

When designing a new housing management system or adapting an existing building it is important to ensure the welfare of the stockman is considered.

Every farm that handles cattle should have proper handling facilities, which are well maintained and in good working order. A race and a crush suitable for the animals to be handled are essential. Makeshift gates and hurdles are insufficient and will result in less efficient handling as well as risking injury.