Author: Kristy

Low stress cattle handling


By Grant Dewell, ISU Extension beef veterinarian

Low stress cattle handling has been written and talked about extensively in the past few years. However, some confusion remains about what low stress handling is. Some of this confusion stems from different handling techniques that have been promoted as reducing stress. Fundamentally, these different techniques can be low stress as long as they are implemented in a way that reduces stress for cattle. Even the best designed system — if used wrong — will be stressful for cattle. The basic principle for low stress handling is to work with cattle’s natural behavior to get the desired effect instead of against it.

Facilities built to simplify things for people may not work from the cattle’s perspective and will cause increased stress. Good cattle handling skills are a learned behavior because many ways people do things are stressful for cattle. Developing cattle handling skills that will reduce stress and improve cattle handling requires several steps.

First try to improve your knowledge about the basic instincts of cattle. There are several resources available from experts that explain these instincts such as herd and social behavior, and predator-prey relationships that are fundamental to knowing why cattle behave the way they do. Understanding behavior is important because you can attend a cattle handling clinic and learn how that group of cattle in that environment should be handled, but in your operation you will handle cattle in a multitude of different scenarios where you will need to adjust your techniques to fit the situation.

The second step is to observe others who handle cattle the way you want to. There are several low stress demonstrations this summer sponsored by the BQA program that are very beneficial. Even if you have attended one in the past I would encourage you to attend again and focus on learning additional skills.

Simple things such as eye contact and body posture are as important as simply learning where to walk or stand to move cattle. It takes time to develop all the skills that you can use, and each demo in which you participate can help build your skill set for handling cattle. Besides the BQA demonstrations, spend time with your neighbors working cattle. Cattlemen and women in Iowa have implemented many of these low stress principles that you can pick up on every day.

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