Low-Stress Cattle Handling Techniques

  1. Fairfarmhand
    It\'s spring. For our family, this means that we have a few beef cattle chores to take care of. We have to pregnancy check our mature cows, give some shots, worm the animals, and in general, make a thorough health evaluation of every cow, calf, bull, and steer on the farm. To do this, we have to corral the animals, run them through our chute, and capture them in the headgate. The cows aren\'t too fond of this, but it is something that must be done.

    Over the years, we\'ve learned to handle our cows causing the least possible stress to the animals. Nervous cows are unpredictable and can sometimes be aggressive. They seldom do what we want them to do, and we have to waste time chasing them all over the field. We\'ve learned time and again that stressing the cows ends up stressing the farmer too.

    Use these tips to make handling your animals as stress free as possible.

    1. Create a new routine

    Our cows are not wild range cows. They are fairly calm animals since we tend to cull for bad temperament and breed for docility. However, getting them up by the barn for shots and handling is a break in their normal routines. Cows are creatures of habit, and when you mess up their routine and habits, they really get confused. So, in the days before we need to start handling them, we often try to create a new routine. We drag a big trough up in the corral, open the gate to the field in which the cows are grazing, and dump out some feed several days in a row. The older, more experienced cows know exactly what that means, and they trot up there to get some grain. This gets them used to coming up in the corral for food. They are less likely to balk at going through the gate when they\'ve done it a few times.

    2. Train to a bucket.

    The way to a cow\'s heart is through her stomach. Once she knows what\'s in the bucket, she may follow you anywhere. Teaching a cow to follow a bucket is also handy if an electric fence shorts out and your cows escape the field.

    3. Have things set up correctly.

    Research the best ways of setting up your cattle panels, chute, and headgate. Try to give the cows no other option but to go the way that you want them to. By the way, have everything set up before you get the cows up to your area.

    4. Take your time.

    You can\'t work your cows calmly if you are rushing. Let the cows set the pace of what is to be done. Allow the cows to go slowly, smelling things, and checking things out. I can tell you from experience that trying to speed things up with cows will only cost you more time. If the cows get nervous and agitated, it may take them forty minutes or longer to calm down so they can do what you want them to do.

    5. Use your fencelines.

    Cows love to walk a fence. Learn to walk them down the fences and into the gates. Have your cattle panels and chute tied into your fences so that you can walk them into the holding pens with little stress.

    6. Work the flight zone.

    Most beef cows (except those that are really tame) have a flight zone. This is the area that a cow likes to keep open around its body for safety. The size of this space can vary, depending on the cow. Some of our animals allow us to get closer than others. Entering a cow\'s flight zone will cause her to move away from you. However, you don\'t want to get too close and risk her spooking in an unpredictable way.

    We try to walk the cows down the fence by walking slightly behind them, but not directly behind them. It\'s almost a 45 degree angle to her body. Moving a cow with two people is easier, because the two of you can walk on either side of the cow.

    7. Stay calm and quiet.

    Cows are quiet, peaceful animals, and they work better when you are calm and quiet. Remember that they are dumb animals, and they don\'t intend to make your life difficult. If you find yourself getting frustrated, take ten or fifteen minutes to regroup. Yelling at, hitting, and running at cattle only gets them more worked up and will only make the situation worse.

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