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Cow health and dairy farmer mental health in herds with robotic milking systems.

T. J. DeVries

Events

06-24-2020

Abstract:

391
Cow health and dairy farmer mental health in herds with robotic milking systems.
M. T. M. King, R. D. Matson, T. J. DeVries*. Department of Animal Biosciences Guelph, ON, Canada.

The objective of this study was to survey dairy farmers using robotic milking systems to better understand their mental health and the potential connections to cow health. Of 76 farms in Ontario, Canada visited to survey management, cow health, and milk production, 34 farmers completed an online survey that included validated psychometric scales used to assess stress, anxiety, and depression. Thirty cows/farm (or 30% for herds > 100 cows) were scored for body condition (5-pt scale, 1 = thin to 5 = over-conditioned) and lameness (5-pt scale, 1 = sound to 5 = lame); cows with a BCS ≤ 2.5 and lameness score of ≥ 4 were defined as under-conditioned and severely lame, respectively. Univariable models were used to screen independent variables (as fixed effects) in mixed-effect linear regression models; variables with P < 0.25 were offered to multivariable models. At a farm level, the prevalence of severe lameness was correlated with average milk yield per cow, SCC, and the proportion under-conditioned cows; thus, only lameness prevalence was offered to multivariable models. Farmer stress was greater for females vs. males (P = 0.007), for those feeding manually vs. using an automated feeder (i.e., conveyer or automated delivery system; P = 0.01), and for those with a greater lameness prevalence (P = 0.02). Depression was greatest for those working alone on the farm (P = 0.02), those feeding manually (P = 0.03), and those with lesser average milk protein % (P = 0.003). Anxiety was greater for females vs. males (P < 0.001), and for those feeding manually (P = 0.005), working alone on the farm (P = 0.07), and with a greater lameness prevalence (P = 0.02) and lesser milk protein % (P = 0.07). Comparing our results to a similar survey of all commodity groups across Canada, dairy farmers using robotic milking systems may be experiencing less stress, anxiety, and depression than other farmers. The results highlight the potential benefits of automated milking and feeding systems and the difficulties associated with working alone. Farmer mental health was identified to be associated with milk yield, quality, and composition, in addition to cow health.

Keywords: automated milking, mental health, cow health.