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Great information on improved cattle handling

Animal Health with Roy Lewis: Plenty of resources to help reduce stress on people and livestock

We’ve all come a long way in our cattle-handling ability with improved skills, improved methods, and equipment and facilities that have become more refined.

Lots of resources have been put into better understanding of proper handling practices. One I suggest checking out is Merck’s Creating Connections website. It can help producers raise healthier cattle and improve their well-being through management techniques that work.

There are countless videos demonstrating low-stress cattle by getting them to trust you and follow your body language. If we can improve handling in all stages of production, it will be easier on us as handlers. It follows that cattle will likely do better because with less stress, all health parameters are probably improved. This means fine-tuning what we are already doing.

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Cattle-handling experts recommend holding nothing with your hands and letting cattle rely on your body language. We have come a long way from using whips, then canes, then rattle paddles and most recently flags. Even the obtrusiveness of these newer devices is still a huge improvement over the bruise-causing devices our forefathers used.

The new methods teach you to present yourself so cattle will look to you for guidance. Pay attention so they can always see you. If cattle trust you, they will relax. If an animal lies down, it may be an early sign of conditions such as respiratory disease. If cattle distrust you,  disease detection becomes more difficult.

Any cattle in the group with their head up are the ones mistrusting you. Cattle wanting to go back from where they have come is the principle of the bud box, where they turn in the box and exit almost where they came into it. It helps facilitate cattle walking into the single- or double-alley system a lot easier.

Some better than others

I have found that certain people, including veterinary students, instinctively have better handling techniques than others. Those with the knack and desire should seek out  further training on the Creating Connections website or any of the other low-stress handling schools.

It does take some natural skill, knowledge, keen observation and patience to put this all together. Patience is one thing we need to instill in most people who handle cattle.

Proper handling is an art and science, so training and practising your skills will decrease stress on cattle, help avoid injuries and perhaps result in less sickness and the need for antimicrobial treatments. That is a triple-winning combination.

The Creating Connections website also talks about “acclimation,” which in a nutshell is getting cattle used to their new pen once arriving at the feedlot. This involves walking among them and taking them to all four corners of the pen, essentially showing them the feed bunks. They should be full so it is easy for new cattle to find feed, and even draining and filling (splashing around) the watering bowl will help them learn where the water is.

There are good videos dealing with loading and unloading cattle and how to lead the cattle during processing. Calm cattle will process quicker, making it easier to apply implants, give vaccines or deliver an oral drench. Cattle respond to your movements and body language.

Better handling equipment

Along with improvements in the handling practices, we’ve also seen improvements with equipment. As described in an earlier column in Grainews, some equipment provides a newer wider-alley system which I feel improves animal welfare and encourages cattle to pretty much feed themselves into chutes off a tub system. Chute manufacturers have continually changed and improved designs, usually meaning less stress on cattle.

Hydraulic chutes help reduce labour while making it possible for cattle to be processed faster. Very little effort is needed for cattle feeding into these chutes. Most have hydraulic pumps located at a distance, which helps to cut down on noise as well. Regardless of the make, when looking at newer handling equipment, be sure the chute you are using has a side release as this can save you in a jam if cattle go down.

Creating Connections also has a section on improved practices while working in the processing area. Cattle should be able to see you and read the body language you create.

Proper handling leads to better processing, while the reduced stress and disease risk. Hopefully, the batteries in your stock prod go dead from lack of use. I have even worked in some older handling facility setups where 200 head were pregnancy checked, vaccinated or bred AI and the cattle were never touched once, let alone stressed by a prod. This is a story worth telling and we need to share those stories with others in the industry and the public at large.

About the author

Columnist

Roy Lewis is an Alberta-based veterinarian specializing in large-animal practice. He is also a part-time technical services vet for Merck Animal Health.

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