Every good stockman or stockwoman knows that when you handle any type of animal at your farm or ranch, there should be as little stress as possible on the critters you are working.
Stress can cause illness and injury to any livestock, not to mention it creates a dangerous and frustrating situation for the humans that are involved. Common sense says to keep your livestock handling low stress for the health and well being of all parties involved.
What is stress, exactly? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines stress as a “constraining force or influence as: a physical, chemical or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension.”
If you have ever ridden a green horse, tried to coax an unwilling beef or bison cow into the chute, or held a goat for drenching, you know that tension in those situations is certainly not a good thing. If you are working your livestock, you need to be aware of your body language, tone of voice, and use of equipment (flags, prods, etc.) to ensure that you are not the cause of tension and stress to your stock. It is also your responsibility to make sure that any hired hands, family members, or interns who might be assisting you are demonstrating appropriate handling practices and not causing undue stress to the animals.
When animals are stressed during chute work, moving from pasture to pasture, or during weaning, they are heavily prone to injury and other health problems, which can be costly. According to an article on low stress cattle handling by Michelle Proctor and Dr. Craig Payne with the University of Missouri Extension, “low stress cattle handling is an economically sound business decision, as well as an animal welfare issue. Aggressive handling of beef and dairy cattle can result in bruising and damage which lowers carcass value in addition to causing stress which can impact the animal’s overall health.”
Being sure to manage your herds in a low stress manner during handling also contributes to a positive public perception of agriculture. Proctor and Payne went on to say in their article “public perception is paramount to the survival and sustainability of the beef and dairy industries. Consumers remain interested in food safety and wholesomeness, but are currently as much concerned with where and how their food is produced. Consumers are more acceptant of low stress handling techniques-working calmly, without shouting, whistling, poking or prodding cattle-when compared to aggressive handling.”
Low stress, holistic handling practices are encouraged by the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Program, and producers can learn about handling methods that improve gathering, penning, chute work, and hauling when they attend Stocksmanship and Stewardship Sessions that are held regularly around the country. Producers can also achieve their Beef Quality Assurance Certification through these programs.
If you are new to using low stress handling practices, or if you want to brush up your skills, there are plenty of resources available to you, including the BQA network, and publications by Dr. Temple Grandin.
By cultivating a calm disposition and using the right equipment and body language, your next handling experience is sure to be a good one – for you and your livestock.


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