Animal Behavior and Well-Being Symposium II: Sponsored by Elanco
Stockmanship is the physical manifestation of animal welfare, yet producers face challenges in recruiting and retaining stockpeople. The human population is increasingly urban, fewer people are working in agriculture, there is limited awareness in urban communities that stockmanship is a potential occupation, the current agricultural workforce is aging, and smear campaigns present a negative public perception of agricultural animal handling that neither provides an accurate representation of the occupation nor inspires those wanting to work with animals to enter into this profession. Compensation for stockpeople must increase, the workload needs to be critically evaluated, and the pay strategy should change. Stockpeople can become overwhelmed by the number of animals they are responsible for monitoring, they work long hours for little pay, and can suffer from exhaustion and compassion fatigue. These challenges contribute to high turnover rates (up to 35%) in animal operations. When there is a change in stockperson, the animals notice and the human-animal relationship is disrupted. Employee turnover is associated with the loss of institutional knowledge regarding the operation’s infrastructure, standard operating procedures, and the behavior and health history of individual animals. These factors can result in inconsistencies in animal care, and forces the operation to devote more resources to training new personnel. The training period is challenging for the trainer, the trainee, and the animals – particularly regarding euthanasia. A single stockperson can have operation-level consequences on producer profitability, both positively and negatively. We must challenge “folklore husbandry” and begin implementing scientifically supported, economically viable, and professionally executed husbandry practices. The next generation of stockpeople are most likely urban born and proficient in developing and applying new technologies. Rebranding the occupation and highlighting that stockpeople work with animals and technology may increase the attractiveness of this occupation to urbanites that are seeking a career working with animals.