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Farmers Use Pigs to Keep Cattle Calm

10 September 2015

UK – Order can be maintained when working with cattle by distracting them with other livestock, real life examples on farms have shown.

Cattle frighten less when there are distractions from the human element, with old sows, llamas and even donkeys used to grab the attention of suspicious bovines, according to Miriam Parker of Livestockwise.

Several examples existed of farmers using other species around their holding, she told delegates at the inaugural Women in Dairy conference at Worcester yesterday.

In the case of pigs, she reasoned it was logical for a herbivore to be very wary of an omnivore.

Her message was that a great deal of knowledge of livestock behaviour had been forgotten, and it was time we relearnt it.

Miriam Parker of Livestockwise told the Women in Dairy conference that cattle need to be understood better and given more space

“In the UK we have lost the ability to train cattle but elsewhere they still use draft animals,” she said.

“Our challenges are huge, we have to move animals at speed with no stress.”

Referencing alarming health and safety figures, she said the “brutal truth” was that there had been 29 deaths in five years from handling accidents in the cattle sector.

Mrs Parker, who has designed cattle handling and slaughtering facilities across the world, stressed successful handling came from understanding what stresses cattle.

This includes having an appreciation of cattle social hierarchy, low frequency hearing, limited binocular range, their dislike for isolation and ability to associate stimuli.

“Cows can learn and settle into routines very quickly, but their learning is not based on fear,” she said. “Cattle soon learn that anything covered in bailer twine is bad news but they will follow a plastic bag, even if it just contains rocks.”

Above all, she said noise and space are critical at keeping cattle calm when working with them. She suggested using two pens instead of one to avoid the bunching effect, which stresses animals. 

Stimulus Association

  • Foot trimming, for example is a practice involving pain, but who rewards cattle with feed after leaving the crate?
  • Camels – animals who are hugely reticent about letting down milk – have a carrot fed to them.

Stimulus Generalisation

  • Electric Fence = negative stimulus
  • Feed bag = positive stimulus

Stimulus Discrimination

  • Nasty and nice farm workers become known to cows.
  • If a worker in blue overalls is quiet and has a bucket of feed to move cattle, then they will become known for being pleasant.

Signs of Anxiety in Cattle

  • Tail swishing
  • Restlessness
  • Increased vocalisation
  • Head up
  • Ears back
  • Increased defecation
  • Walkers on Paths

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms


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