The attitude, behaviour, skills and knowledge of the people who manage and handle farm animals is known as stockpersonship. Knowledgeable, caring and low-stress handling and animal management, when practised consistently, is key to good stockpersonship and farm animal welfare.
Technical skills and knowledge are important, so it is essential that stockpeople are suitably selected and trained, and are able to recognise indicators of good as well as poor animal welfare.
How does a stockperson monitor animal welfare on farm?
Stockpeople should regularly monitor animals’ appearance, vocalisations and behaviour, including: normal feeding and drinking; active, responsive, calm behaviour; absence of abnormal behaviour; positive or neutral responses to stockperson; use of environmental enrichment (where available); signs of disease, injury or distress; and body condition. This is all to ultimately monitor their health and welfare.
In addition to observing and responding to an animal’s behaviour and physical needs, stockpeople are responsible for maintaining an optimal environment. They must have a good working knowledge of the husbandry system and the animals under their care.
What impact does stockpersonship have on animal welfare?
The attitudes and competence of stockpeople and staff have a direct impact on the welfare of animals in their care, and are crucial to good animal welfare. An animal’s fear or lack of fear of humans is related to the handling and treatment they receive from stockpeople, which subsequently affects their well-being, productivity and meat quality.
Research has shown that regular, positive human contact reduces animals’ fear of humans, and reduces stress and fear reactions. It is the responsibility of farm management to ensure there is a culture among farm staff that prioritises animal welfare and recognises and rewards staff for maintaining good animal welfare.