Animal behaviorist and Colorado State University professor Temple Grandin has built a career on sensing how livestock react when being handled. Here’s her quick list of do’s and don’ts for you and your crew when you are rounding up the herd:
Do calm down. Temple advocates that her number one rule around livestock is to remain quiet. She reports that research has shown loud voices and yelling scares animals more than clanging gates and chains. Along with that, cattle that become agitated have been shown to have lower weight gains and marbling scores – because they end up putting energy into recovering instead of into performance.
Grandin says, “Animals are sensory thinkers. They have great memories, but they don’t store words. They store sounds and pictures.” Thus, she suggests when handling livestock, crews need to get away from language and make it a quiet and calm experience for the cattle.
Along with this she advocates low stress handling practices like fenceline weaning, which allows cattle to get on feed faster because they’ve experienced minimal stress.
Do make first experiences pleasant. Temple advocates that an important livestock handling principle is to make animals’ first experiences with a new place, piece of equipment or person a favorable one. “They don’t forget,” she say, and adds, “An initial experience that is averse can create a permanent fear memory in that animal.”
Temple explains that new things are both scary and attractive to an animal. The experience is scary if it is forced or suddenly introduced. But the experience can be made attractive, if the animal is allowed to investigate it on its own.
Therefore, she suggests introducing new steps gradually. For instance a guy on a horse and a guy on the ground are two different things to an animal. So if cattle are used to seeing a horse and rider, slowly introduce them to a person walking through the herd on the ground, and vice versa. Don’t introduce that person on the ground the very day you try to move the animals.
Likewise, show animals should be habituated to flags, strange people, noise, etc before they go to an event.
Don’t keep animals penned alone. “One of the most dangerous animals is the lone animal,” says Temple. Being alone is highly stressful, so bring some other animals in with it, she suggests.
Don’t select for temperament only. Temple cautions that single trait selection is never a good idea. As an example, she says if you select only for calm cattle, you’ll likely get cows who aren’t good mothers in caring for their calf. That said, wild animals don’t habituate,but just get more scared and probably need to be culled, says Temple. So seek some middle ground in selecting for disposition.
Do move animals at a walk or trot. Getting animals too excited and moving too fast can again negate health and performance.
Don’t use a hot shot. A flag can drive cattle effectively, says Temple.
Don’t fill the crowd pen too full. When working animals through a chute. Temple suggests filling the crowd pen only half full and leaving the tub gate on the first notch. “Don’t squish them in there. Animals have to be able to move freely and see where they are going,” she says. To get a firsthand experience, she also suggests walking through the crowd pen and chute yourself when it’s empty and pretend you are the animal. See what details you notice at their eye level. “They’ve got to be able to see the entrance, so sometimes switching the side you work from in the pen makes a difference,” she suggests. Also note any items on the ground –such as a pipe or board in the alley- that cattle may balk at. Either remove it, or cover it dirt so they don’t notice it. If the open sides along the alley or chute bother them, consider covering those with plywood as well.
For more about Grandin’s books and livestock handling techniques visit http://www.grandin.com.
Next tip: The Borrower-Lender Relationship: A Two-Way Street