According to Dr. Robert Wells, livestock consultant for the Samuel R. Nobel Foundation in Ardmore, Okla., “Anybody who’s not considering low-stress cattle handling in their cattle management operation is really behind the times.” Use of these techniques will save the rancher time and money, and will provide benefits to the industry as a whole.
It seems counter-intuitive to say that taking it slow and avoiding the use of hot-shots will save time, but Wells told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor when cattle handlers use the old “whoop and holler” methods, it actually slows the process down. “The movement of the cattle will start to jam up and slow down,” he said. “If you think about what you’re doing, move smaller groups of cattle through the working facilities at a time and take your time doing it, you will probably finish in the same amount of time, if not faster.” On the economic side, an animal that is not stressed will have less shrink at the sale barn; if he’s a growing animal, he’ll have a higher rate of average daily gain for the first few days after being handled.
Wells also recommended leaving the hot-shot in the pickup. “There are times and places where they’re necessary, but most of the time the situation will resolve itself without the use of a hot-shot,” he said. “In the amount of time it takes for you to go to your pickup, retrieve your hot-shot and come back, more than likely the calf will have settled down, and will cooperate and do what you ask.”
He also recommended that the producer acclimate the cattle to him, and to his working system. “All too often, a producer will feed the cows using a feed truck or a feed wagon,” he said. “They will go through the pasture, dump out the feed, turn around to count the number of cattle there, and never get out of the pickup. When the cattle see them for the first time on foot, that’s a new experience… If you typically handle them with a horse, ride through them with a horse from time to time; if you’re going to gather them with a four-wheeler, do the same. Additionally, when you can, draw the cattle through your working pens whenever possible without doing anything to them. That will allow the animals to develop a sense of comfort to use in that corral.”
Dr. Craig Payne, University of Missouri Extension veterinarian, said while it’s easy to put a dollar value on the cost of an injury to an animal during handling, it’s more difficult to assess the cost of stress. “We know that stress on an animal impacts their immune system and their ability to fight off infectious diseases,” he told OFN, “so during a stressful loading or processing event, we know that after processing or at their destination they’re less likely to respond to vaccines, and more likely to get sick.” In fact, he recently heard about research that indicates some of the bacteria that cause respiratory disease have receptors on their cell walls for stress hormones in animals, putting the pathogens “on alert” that there may be an opportunity to infect the animal.
Payne said stress can be reduced by ensuring facilities are set up in a way that makes the animals easier to handle. Among those considerations are making sure there’s adequate sunlight, and not too many shadows in the alleyway. For loading facilities, take a walk through before loading begins. “Make sure there’s nothing sticking out that an animal could injure itself on,” he said. “If there are broken boards, or anything that they could cut their feet on, go ahead and fix those before you start loading cattle.”
Loud noises have a tendency to distract cattle, so minimizing yelling or screaming. And don’t overload the trailer. “If an animal does by chance go down, that makes it more difficult for them to get up,” Payne said, noting the industry’s Beef Quality Assurance program offers guidelines for loading based on the weight of animals and the size of trailers.
He offered an interesting recommendation from other handling experts. “What they suggest is that if you have a loading box and an alleyway running out of that box, you push the cattle towards the back of the pen,” he said. “Once you have them towards the back of the pen, you release that pressure, and those animals will start filing down that alleyway. Our natural response is to try to get behind the cattle and push them directly to the alleyway, but the inverse is true.”


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