Recently retired Michigan State University Extension dairy educator and veterinarian Ben Bartlett has been providing expertise to producers for years. He used that expertise recently when he teamed up with MSUE specialist and Hispanic Farmer Program director Juan Marinez to put on a series of workshops.
Communicating with your employees can often be complicated and fraught with misunderstanding. This can be further complicated when English is not their primary language. The MSUE duo combined their skills and knowledge – Ben in cattle handling and Juan in translating – to present workshops on low-stress cattle handling techniques to 22 Spanish-speaking employees of Green Meadows Farms in Ovid.
Using low-stress cattle handling techniques increases farm efficiency, profitability and most importantly, safety.
Introduced at workshops as the Cow Whisperer, Ben tries to get his audience to learn to “speak cow.” Proper body language is essential in people-to-cow communication. Ben knows that for safety’s sake, it’s important for cattle handlers to understand how cows see. For example, they can’t see the floor in front of them as people can. This makes cows very cautious about moving in a space that they are unfamiliar with. And this can make the environment that cows move in unsafe if handlers don’t know the proper way of relating to cows.
Additionally, cows think of humans as predators and themselves as the prey. If the handler gets too close to the cow it will feel uncomfortable and flee. Keeping out of the cows’ “flight zone” will enable the handler to move the cattle without harassing them. This makes the job easier for both human and cow.
And people-to-people communication is important as well. With Juan as translator, Ben was able to get his points across despite the language barrier.
According to Juan, in Michigan today, 55 percent of dairy farm employees are Latinos. Although many come from rural backgrounds, they may not have livestock work experience, and if they do, their experience does not equate to the farming practices, traditions and technology that we are familiar with in the U.S.
“If we in land-grant want to make an impact, we need to be inclusive of this workforce and bring them up to date on a regular basis,” said Juan.
This workshop is just one example of many educational efforts to reach the expanding Latino agricultural workforce.