By Matt McIntosh
If you’ve ever had a large dog as a pet, you know how frustrating it can be to move it somewhere it doesn’t want to go, or do something it doesn’t particularly want to do. Indeed, getting it to stand still for even a moment when other dogs are afoot, just as an example, can be downright strenuous.
Now imagine if that dog weighed about 1,300 pounds. That’s the size of an average dairy cow, and as any dairy farmer knows, cows don’t always want to cooperate either. But just like dogs, dairy cows will go where you want and when you want if the right methods are applied.
“Animals learn the same way, and dairy cattle are no different,” says Dr. Don Hoglund, an expert on dairy stockmanship the facilitator of a recent workshop series for Ontario’s dairy farmers.
“Successfully controlling their movements starts with understanding their behaviour.”
As part of Farm & Food Care Ontario’s Innovative Management and Practical Animal Care Training (IMPACT) program – an initiative designed to deliver practical training to people who work with farm animals – Dr. Hoglund visited Ontario to deliver his “Dairy Stockmanship for Better Production” workshop series. The workshops featured both classroom and in-barn practical sessions, and centred on teaching producers “low-energy” animal handling methods. Eighteen sessions were held at dairy farms across Ontario between May 25 and June 15.
Vague terms though they may be, Hoglund’s low-energy techniques are anything but. Using consistent, smooth movements, he showed a total of 260 workshop attendees how to take advantage of cattle instincts rather than fighting to control them.
After watching Dr. Hoglund at work, it’s safe to say that one of the best examples of his methods is knowing when to walk towards a calf or cow, and perhaps more importantly, when to back away. Interpreting what way the animal is facing and where the animal wants to go is critical, and when done calmly and safely, can help dairy handlers isolate and move animals with little more than a few steps and hand gestures.
“It’s important to always have a plan,” says Hoglund. “The trick is to do your business and move away from it.”
Hoglund’s stockmanship workshop series has been in operation for seven years now, but he says the program itself is “just an extrapolation” of the work he has been doing for a long time – and that’s no exaggeration.
Originally from north-eastern Colorado, Hoglund has been working with animals for his entire life. He’s been a cutting horse trainer, helped build Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show for the Disney Corporation in Paris, worked with the United States government to train prison inmates on animal handling and training, and helped save wild horses from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. He is also an author and has been an active veterinarian for the last 30 years.
Hoglund says all his experiences have contributed to the approach developed for the stockmanship series, and reiterates the importance of understanding and working with the natural behaviour of animals.
With the resources being offered through the IMPACT program, he adds, Canadian producers and commodity groups across the country have a good opportunity to further improve how they handle animals, and build consumer trust in the process.
The goal of Farm & Food Care’s IMPACT program is, quite literally, to make an impact on the lives of farm animals. Delivering resources like Hoglund’s stockmanship workshop series helps provide those who work with animals with new handling skills and confidence.
Overall, the program offers a variety of unique resources and training opportunities for a variety of farm animal species. Coming this fall are a series of low-stress handling workshops for Ontario’s beef farmers, courtesy of Dylan Biggs and Curt Pate – cattle handling experts from Alberta and the United States respectively.
To see photos from the workshops, visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/124744862@N06/
For more information on the IMPACT program, visit www.farmimpact.ca.