Small handling changes improve cow happiness, study finds

Small adjustments to the manner and environment in which cattle are handled results in calm and happy cows, a Brazilian study has found.  

Cortisol levels – a hormone linked with stress – were lower in cows handled in an “improved way” according to a trial studying 141 Nellore cows passing through handling facilities, published this month in Tropical Animal Health and Production.

Strategies for improved handling

  • Bright colours removed from pens
  • Hollows in the ground were filled in with dirt
  • Shadowy and dark areas were removed
  • Handlers received one-off training on how to work quietly with animals
  • Workers did not push, hit, prod cows
  • Dogs and electric prods were removed
  • Flags were used to encourage animal movement

Nellore cattle – present on both ranches in the project – are known to be temperamental, especially when ranched extensively, explained the report.

The corral included wooden restraining devices and head stanchions surrounded by 1.8m wooden board fencing.

Cattle were restrained by a squeeze crush that exerted light pressure on the animal’s necks.

See also: 4 ways to improve cow flow and reduce lameness

The difference in cow mood was even seen in the time taken to collect blood samples to test cortisol  levels, according to Maria Lucia Pereira Lima, The Sertãozinho Institute of Zootechnics, who was lead author on the study.

“Minor changes made in the corral and the adoption of good handling practices reduced agitation during restraint in the squeeze chute, the time spent for blood collection, and cortisol release,” said Mrs Lima.

 The percentage of calm cows during restraint in the chute increased from 42% for the usual methods to 68% for the improved corral-handling method.