Cattle Handling: Low-Stress Is Not Low-Pressure


During handling, feedlot operators and ranchers do their best to minimize stress on cattle. High disease susceptibility, low milk yields, low conception rates, high pre-weaning mortalities, and low weight gains may be witnessed in cattle experiencing excessive stress. The stress cattle can handle depends on the nature of the stressor, health and nutrition, past experiences, and temperament.

Low-stress cattle handling minimizes the stress cattle experience whilst in feedlots. It takes much more than quality cattle handling equipment. Understanding low-stress cattle handling is a requirement for Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certification ensuring animal care is adhered to. However, ranchers and operators might not be spending enough time with the cattle needing it the most. Newly arrived cattle are the most vulnerable thus require the most attention through an acclimation process.

The first few days are important to ensure quality. An effective acclimation process works incoming cattle daily after arrival. This lowers morbidity and death loss whilst improving the average daily weight gain in feedlots. An acclimation process can take a short time. From doing what you want the cattle to do to moving them around and settling down takes 15 to 30 minutes daily.

Low-stress handling is incorporated in the acclimation process as a higher form of stockmanship. Stockmanship involves getting cattle to move around, doing as you instruct. Low-stress cattle handling applies stockmanship as well as considering the animal’s well-being and psychology. However, low-stress does not imply low-pressure.

Pressure is applied to cattle to induce desired responses such as forward movement. The desired response is a result of pressure release. A person can also relieve pressure by moving back. You can lose control of cattle by applying constant pressure without relief. Give cattle a place to go to when you apply pressure.

A slow walk is the best option when inducing cattle to bunch while keeping stress at a minimum. Try to avoid tight bunching as much as possible. The edge of cattle’s flight zone offers an area that is easy for people to apply and release pressure. Animals are calmer and move more freely when this technique is applied.

Pressure can be applied ideally at the animal’s “point of balance”. Having the point of balance in front of the handler induces forward movement in cattle. Animals move away from the pressure as the handler moves forward, towards the point of balance. Room for the movement of animals at the back of a group is created by moving the animals at the front. Working animals from behind tend not to work because they will back up as they try to see you and pressure is not released when you move forward as the animal moves forward. Work from the front as the animal comes towards you, constantly relieving pressure. It is also important to minimize noise as it may cause undue pressure.

A better grasp of the acclimation process results in benefits such as early detection of lameness, sickness, and any other challenges faced by cattle. It is much easier to detect sickness in relaxed animals. The acclimation process enables cattle to trust their handlers as they settle down. Working the cattle consistently is key in making the acclimation process work.

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