The weight of labor issues on animal welfare

By Courtney Daigle

Producers face challenges in recruiting and retaining stockpeople. There are two job openings for each applicant, and much of the agricultural workforce is composed of immigrants. Immigration reform is making it difficult to generate a sustainable agricultural workforce, even as the U.S. demand for foreign labor has increased fivefold in the past 13 years.

To overcome these challenges, producers are identifying out-of-the-box solutions including alternative labor sources (e.g., prison inmates) and are quick to implement new technology that makes managing more animals easier and more efficient. Yet there is a need to develop and maintain a strong long-term workforce of highly skilled and effective stewards of our food animals.

Finding and keeping good help

A diverse suite of factors impact our ability to recruit and retain good stockpeople. The human population is increasingly urban; thus fewer people are working in agriculture, there is limited awareness in urban communities that stockmanship is a potential occupation, and the current agricultural workforce is aging.

The “technology treadmill” requires stockpeople to continually learn and adopt new technologies. Further, smear campaigns present a negative public perception of agricultural animal handling that neither provides an accurate representation of actual animal care 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. Sometimes employees are paid based upon the number of animals handled rather than being paid for the duration of time spent completing the husbandry task. This pay structure motivates employees to work quickly, which can result in suboptimal management and handling strategies.

If humans work quickly or aggressively with livestock animals, they can induce a fear response which compromises productivity, biological functioning and the human-animal relationship. Further, stockpeople can become overwhelmed by the number of animals they are responsible for monitoring, they work long hours for little pay (Figure 1) and can suffer from exhaustion and compassion fatigue.

Comparative pay

These challenges surrounding employee recruitment and retention are reflected in the high turnover rates (up to 35%) in animal operations.

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Via source Progressive Cattle | The weight of labor issues on animal welfare

For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Kaitlyn Harkin at or (979) 845-1542

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