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Can dairy farms be safer and more efficient?

Jackson Wright Published on 10 June 2013

The high demands of farm life can make it easy to overlook many safety precautions. Unfortunately, this is proving to be a dangerous mistake. On dairy farms, the majority of injuries occur due to a lack of training, a lack of safeguards or worker fatigue.

To address these concerns, farms should consider adopting a formal employee training program. Such programs should utilize standard operating procedures and train every employee on the principles of cow behaviour.



Moreover, retrofitting existing facilities with safeguards can improve worker safety and make facilities more efficient.

Develop standard operating procedures
Implementing standard operating procedures can provide consistency to many routine tasks. Common standard operating procedures include treatment protocols, newborn calf protocols, milking procedures, proper handling and movement of non-ambulatory cattle, identification of sick or injured cows, humane euthanasia and emergency management plans.

At a minimum, every standard operating procedure should include necessary equipment and supplies, clear objectives, expected results and a step-by-step procedure.

Combined, these ensure that the proper preparations have been made prior to any actions taking place. Likewise, outlining clear objectives and expected outcomes increases the likelihood of success. This can streamline many daily tasks, improve consistency and increase worker safety.

Train every employee on the principles of cow behaviour
In addition, about 20 percent of farm injuries involve animals. This is equal to that of farm machinery. Therefore, every employee should be trained on the basic principles of cow behaviour.

Employees should recognize that cattle are herd animals, meaning that one should move calmly and deliberately when working around cows.

Likewise, isolating cows can greatly increase stress, making animals more difficult to work with and increasing the likelihood of injury to both humans and animals. In many cases, a buddy cow can greatly reduce stress and improve overall safety.

Employees should also understand the principles of the flight zone (the animal’s personal space) and point of balance, which dictates the direction in which you want the animal to move.


The size of the animal’s flight zone is determined by its past experience; therefore, mistreatment of animals can have long-term negative impact. Handlers who clearly understand the principles of flight zone will be able to move animals more easily.

Finally, employees should understand that cows have poor vision and depth perception. Often obstacles will cause cows to balk and lower their heads to assess the situation.

Training employees on the principles of flight zone and inspecting walkways for obstacles prior to moving cattle can decrease stress in the animal, improving efficiency and overall safety when moving animals.

Implement strategic safeguards
Retrofitting existing facilities with safeguards can make a huge improvement on worker safety. Consider strategically locating man-passes within gates and along feedbunks.

Man-passes are typically 14 inches to 18 inches wide, allowing a human to quickly escape a potentially hazardous situation.

In addition to improving safety, man-passes can greatly improve the efficiency on many dairy operations by allowing employees to easily move through a facility without having to open gates or worry about animals escaping.

Locating man-passes along the feedbunk can allow employees to quickly pass from the feed alley to a pen, simplifying many daily tasks. Moreover, headlocks can be easily modified to create man-passes by simply removing the interior bar – just be sure to remove all sharp edges.

Finally, strategically installing rubber can facilitate the movement of animals. Installing rubber in the holding area near the entry to the milking parlour, on the floor of the milking parlour and along the exit lane will facilitate the movement of cows through the parlour.

This, combined with calm handling and a consistent milking routine, can reduce stress, which can improve milk letdown and parlour efficiency. Bottom line: implementing safety precautions can benefit worker safety and improve efficiency on many dairy operations.  PD

—Excerpts from Cornell University Cooperative Extension’s Ag Focus newsletter, July 2012

Jackson Wright
Dairy Management Specialist
Cornell University Cooperative Extension