GLOBAL - Stockmen are being informed about the fundamental aspects of cow behaviour to control the spread of digital dermatitis and white line disease.
This includes appreciating the bovine senses of hearing, smell and vision, alongside an appreciation of herd dynamics and cow flow.
One expert from which the message is coming is Neil Chesterton, a veterinary surgeon and leading authority on cattle lameness from Taranaki, New Zealand.
He wants farmers to understand that stressed cows are often lame as they are nervous of people and farm implements, consequently shunting and skidding around pens, opening up their feet to infections.
Mr Chesterton has conducted two surveys that correlated lame cows with high cortisone levels, chemical proof of stress that shows in the blood.
Fear and stress can arise from being spooked by a farmer, slapped on the behind, picking up new or upsetting smells and spotting objects in the peripheral field of vision.
On one farm, Mr Chesterton noted that cows were wary of entering the parlour one day. He later realised that fish blood and bone was being spread on land eight kilometres away and the wind direction had suddenly changed.
What exacerbates the issue is that, when a cow becomes scared, fear is passed through the herd via pheromones in the urine.
This is at its worst in holding pens which are frequently too small to allow cattle traffic to circulate properly.
This is where shouting, stick hitting and electrified chains on back gates are used to move cattle faster, which Mr Chesterton claims is the key source of problems on farms.
He prescribes that cattle should be given time and space to navigate from field to the holding pen and then to the parlour.
“Cows are creatures of habit, they learn and remember routes,” says Mr Chesterton. “Heifers can be trained to walk through a parlour in three or four days, possibly quicker if they are trained before calving.”
“Cows operate in herds and will not overtake dominant cows. Instead a cow will back away from a superior cow in the herd.”
Cows have a walking order and a milking order, adds Mr Chesterton. Farmers are aware of this but he says inexperienced workers rushing to get to the pub think they can speed the process with a stick or a yell.
Mr Chesterton concludes that: “The more pressure you put on the herd, the slower it will go.”
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