Ohio State University (OSU) animal science researchers are launching animal welfare training programs to foster human-animal interaction.

The cognitive behavioral intervention training programs are a result of collaboration between OSU’s Department of Animal Sciences and Australia’s Animal Welfare Science Centre, internationally recognized as a leading research and educational facilitator of animal welfare topics.

“Worldwide animal welfare research on dairy cattle, swine and poultry has clearly shown a relationship between human-animal interaction and animal behavior, animal performance and a quality product,” states Naomi Botheras, an OSU Extension animal welfare program specialist assisting in implementing the state’s training programs. “Everything from the ease of handling the animal, to differences in milk yield, egg production, and growth and reproduction rates, can be impacted by whether a producer exhibits positive or negative behavior toward the animal.”

Positive behavior can increase pig production by 1.6 more piglets/sow/year and increase average daily gain by 5%, says Botheras.

Steve Moeller, an OSU Extension swine specialist, will help launch ProHand Pigs, the state’s program that focuses on stockperson training in the swine industry.

“Traditional animal welfare approaches have been to observe the animal in a specific setting and then adjust or modify the environment to put that animal in a position of what is perceived to be enhanced welfare,” says Moeller. ‘These training programs take it one step further by focusing on the human aspect. The data shows that employees who have the right attitudes and beliefs toward how they handle their animals translate into improved productivity. And we can use better performance and efficiency as a good indicator of the well-being of animals.”

ProHand enhances existing state programs such as the Pork Quality Assurance and Trucker Quality Assurance pork checkoff-funded programs from the National Pork Board.

ProHand Pigs and a similar program for the dairy industry works to improve animal handling and communication between handlers and animals using multimedia tools reinforced by videos, posters, handouts and newsletters.

The programs have a validated track record. In Australia, three out of four participants showed an improvement in attitude and behavior within a month of completing the training, says Botheras.