Managing an effective, safe dairy means learning a bit about cow psychology – how they think, what spooks them, why they react the way that they do. For Kimball Holt of Holt Farms, understanding how cows respond to certain situations has made a significant impact on his dairy. Over the past 2 years, Kimball has hired two consultants – both experts in the field of low-stress cattle handling – to visit his operation and provide insight into how the dairy’s structural set up can be improved to better meet the needs of the cattle. In addition to helping with the dairy’s traffic flow, providing tips on calming heifers when they first visit the milking parlor, and working with Kimball on the design of a new maternity pen, the consultants have become a welcome sight for the dairy’s employees. Training employees on how to interact with cows has created a safer, calmer environment all around. From the employees who attach the milkers on the rotary, to those who interact with the animals out in the corrals, learning about the the concept of “pressure” and “flight” zones has made a significant difference.
Pressure vs. Flight Zones
Imagine your own notion of personal space: if you are having a conversation with someone and he/she comes just an inch too close, you tend to feel a bit awkward, it’s difficult to focus on the topic, and your immediate reaction is to back away. Cows aren’t too different. Each cow has a notion of personal space, and if we enter that space without her “permission” or awareness, she will likely react in much the same way a human would. In the pressure zone, a cow is alert and unsure but she doesn’t run. Move just a bit closer and she may turn and bolt – you have entered the flight zone.
The consultants that Kimball has hired have been trained by Bud Williams – well known for his practice of low stress methods of moving cattle and his ability to teach others how to safely and calmly manage their livestock. On the dairy, Kimball has a goal for each of his employees – he wants them to learn how to read each individual cow. The pressure and flight zones may differ for each animal, and it is important that employees recognize differences – some cows feel more comfortable than others as humans near their personal space. When farmers and their employees understand the Pressure and Flight zones, they are able to work within the pressure zone to encourage the cow to move onto the carousel for milking or down an alley and back to her corral. Venturing from pressure to flight means that the cow is stressed and she is unlikely to respond favorably.
Through working with consultants, watching hours of video, and spending time training each employee, Kimball has created a calm working relationship with his animals. His cows are producing more milk, they feel calm in their daily routine, and young cows walk onto the milking carousel much more readily. Kimball has learned that it takes about 3 times of doing something for cows to truly learn and feel comfortable, so he emphasizes that his employees always practice patience and consistency when working with the animals.
Kimball’s experiences on the farm are constantly evolving and consistently improving – the dairy is always a classroom – an environment where the animals, the employees, the owners, and the consultants learn how to act to interact with one another for a calm, comfortable, and productive coexistence.
To watch more about low-stress cattle handling, check out these videos by Ron Gill
For more about the Holt Family and their farming operation in Southern Utah: