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Defining stockmanship

Author: Kristy

Stockmanship,

like sustainability, is a commonly used word that many might find hard to clearly define in a few words. Stockmanship has been defined as the knowledgeable and skillful handling of livestock in a safe, efficient, effective, and low-stress manner and denotes a low-stress, integrated, comprehensive, holistic approach to livestock handling (Stockmanship Journal). However, stockmanship is more than just handling. It is concerned with the whole life of the animal in our care. We used to call it animalhusbandry or stewardship. First and foremost, stockmanship is livestock centered. By that I mean, we must consider the natural behavior and needs of the animal or group. There are 3 essential elements of good stockmanship: an environment that provides protection and comfort appropriate for the species; adequate, well designed facilities that enables low stress handling; and a comprehensive, herd health management program.

Low stress handling begins long before cattle are gathered from the pasture or pen. Ideally, animals need to be familiar with the care givers and have had some exposure or interaction with them prior to being gathered. Every time we interact with an animal we are training them. And just like with people, you only get one chance to make a first impression and that first impression often determines whether the animal trusts you or their environment for the rest of their life or time on your farm. New people or situations make cattle nervous. Watch the signals cows give you. You can tell if a cow just doesn’t want to cooperate or if she is afraid. A spoiled cow that is used to doing what she wants is handled differently than one that is afraid and doesn’t know what you are asking her to do.

In our busy culture, patience isn’t always easy to practice. With cattle, however, exercising patience is essential. Cattle can be worked with coercion and often are because of inadequate or untrained labor and poorly designed facilities and just plain too much to do in a day. However, even if we get a chore done fast without injury to cattle or people, the stress on our cattle may cost us in the long run. Recent animal performance research has shown us that even with low stress handling there is a negative effect on cattle health or performance just from working them through the chute. This is a trade off since our purpose to work them is to apply an animal health procedure or product or collect important data. Our goal then should be to minimize the negative impact on health, well-being or performance. While it seems like a contradiction, slower is faster when working cattle. READ MORE

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