Two veterinarians. One animal health company. And one goal to improve the global cattle industry. Combined together, the result is Creating Connections, Merck Animal Health’s new web-based education and training platform designed improve cattle well-being and overall herd health.

Dr. Paulo Loureiro, team member of Merck’s Global Ruminants Business Unit, grew up on cattle operations in Brazil and says he began utilizing low-stress cattle handling practices without knowing what he was doing. “Around 1998 I realized I had something to share about what I was doing with cattle handling. I knew I was helping animals move better and avoiding cowboys using sticks and prods,” he explains.

After running a veterinary practice in Brazil from 1998 to 2012, Loureiro joined Merck’s team and moved north to the United States. He says the first thing he did was talk to his teammates about the need to “spread the message” about low-stress cattle handling on a global level. It wasn’t until meeting Dr. Tom Noffsinger, a consulting feedyard veterinarian known for his work with low-stress cattle handling practices, that the idea for Creating Connections was born.

Launched publicly on November 12, Merck will update Creating Connections monthly with information related to specific topics animal well-being and animal handling. Dr. Loureiro says the videos show that regardless of one’s experience in the industry, there’s always room to learn and always a need to share that knowledge with others. “You’re seeing a guy who has worked with animals for so many years still learning and implementing in front of your eyes,” he says.

Future videos will focus on issues including acclimation, use of a Bud Box, loading animals, horsemanship and more. Loureiro says Creating Connections will partner with additional industry experts in the future such as Dr. Kevin Sullivan, from Australia.

According to Noffsinger, Creating Connections will help make sure all animal caregivers “know that whenever they are with cattle, they have the opportunity to make the experience positive for the animals and positive for the people.” He says if every task is approached as an opportunity to teach, the cattle will work more effectively.

Of low-stress cattle handling, he says, “It improves cattle health. It improves cattle performance. And it really improves worker safety and animal safety. At the end of the day, we need to share this.”

The educational videos are not the only feature of Creating Connections. Loureiro says a series of 12 training modules are in the development phase and will begin to be released in the first quarter of 2015. He says the modules will have three levels – basic, intermediate and deep science – and will cover the science behind stockmanship and applying the concepts of stockmanship to the industry.

“We are not creating anything new. We don’t want to create new standards for animal handling; we just want to help the industry move forward,” Loureiro says. “We have a very good program. The training modules will be a tool to help the industry go to the next level.”

The goal of the project, Noffsinger says, is to create a “culture of open learning – learning by teaching and learning by sharing. He says in the database he uses to evaluate feedlots and ranches, there is a large variation in health and performance parameters in genetically similar cattle and similar environments. The variation, he says, is party due to handling skills.

“Research helps us increase our understanding of the ability of a stockman to have a huge impact on innate immunity and on an animal’s resistance to disease,” Noffsinger says. “That’s what I respect about Merck. They have some products for sale for improving animal health, and what we’re talking about is supplementing those products with human interaction. It’s an exciting concept. It’s not how many cows we can unload in an hour or how many we can process in an hour. It’s how we create a flow through an operation and creating an opportunity for every animal to flourish.”

Visit www.CreatingConnections.info for more information.