For decades the scientific community has tried to answer the question “What plays a bigger role in determining the propensity for improved health and longevity, is it genetics or is it the environment?”
Research on human paternal (identical) twins clearly shows that the environment has a more significant role in determining health and longevity. It is increasingly recognized that these environmental health and longevity hazards are not limited to physical, chemical or biological factors but also includes emotional stress.
Emotional stresses can trigger heart attacks, arrhythmias and even sudden death.
There is an increasing recognition within the animal and dairy science community of the complex and dynamic response to stress and the role of immune response in animal productivity and well-being.
We are all aware of the importance of predictability and consistency in the herd’s daily routine to reduce stress. We are also aware of the importance of confident and calm cow handling, but we often overlook the stressful impact of the duration and frequency of the daily handling of cows in essential portions.
Herd health programs are designed around the limited information we have about individual cow status. For example, not knowing which cow is suffering from health issues requires finding and inspecting every fresh cow. Handling too many potentially affected cows (when only a small number of them are actually suffering from a health issue) increases the scope of the stress and its duration beyond the objective necessity. Especially to a prey species, like cows.
The prevalent method of measuring the stress a cow feels when subjected to human interaction is by measuring her flight zone – the personal space that she regards as safe from a potential threat.
It’s interesting to see the change in flight zones a few months after an animal monitoring system is introduced into a herd and successfully implemented. As daily human-cow interactions are reduced due to the ability to focus only on the cows that need management attention that day and fewer cows are enrolled in TAI programs, cows begin to reduce their flight zone.
This week, we visited a very successful electronically monitored dairy herd the herd manager reflected on the change he witnessed. “Before we put the system in, every time I would walk the pens the cows would try to get as far away from me as they could. Now, they don’t seem to mind me there at all.” This herd has increased its average milk production per cow by over 20% while reducing the average expense per cow. The herd reports a significantly lower number of sick cows and cows are bred in a timely manner which has had a significant positive impact on herd profitability.
Dairy cows know how to do their work, sometimes the best thing we can do is stay out of their way and let them be cows.
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