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Making the Shift to Low Stress Livestock Handling

As producers our goal is to make a living from owning and working with stock. The calmer, more contented and healthy our cattle are the better for everyone concerned. Low stress livestock handling can contribute to the well being of your cattle by allowing you to handle them in all situations in a safe, calm, efficient manner — effectively minimizing the amount of stress you expose your cattle to.

An essential attitude to adopt in making this technique effective is to take responsibility for how our cattle respond to being handled. To understand that if our cows are difficult to handle it is mostly a result of the way we handle them. How cattle behave when being moved or worked is the result over time of our approach, and how we go about getting them to do what we want.

People donít intentionally train their cattle to be nervous, cagey, frightened or cranky. A lot of people have trained their cattle to be called and to follow the feed wagon, bale truck or the chop pail. When that works, which it can in many circumstances itís great. Unfortunately it doesnít work 100% of the time. There is always some circumstance or obstacle where the bribe being offered isnít sufficient to convince any or all of the cattle to cooperate with our plans.

The bridge, railway crossing, creek, hi-way with all the painted lines, corrals whatever the case may be, the result is the same - the cows arenít coming. Then you feel forced to resort to what you were trying to avoid to begin with. Namely getting behind your cows and pushing. The harder we push the more the cows want to break. The more they try and break the harder we push. Pretty soon we are waving our arms and raising our voices and, well you know the rest of the story, seldom does it have a happy ending, for the people or the cattle.

Many people blame the cattle for any and all difficulties they have handling them. When difficulties arise it is always easier to find fault in our cattle, dogs, horses or spouses than in ourselves. This makes it much easier to justify all the yelling, cussing and inappropriate use of four-wheelers, horses, dogs, canes, stock-prods and ropes. It doesnít take any special training to lose your temper, get mad, mean and abusive with cattle. But it will take a time commitment and a concerted effort to learn how to work cattle effectively - using only your position and movement. It will require breaking old habits and acquiring new ones. You will need to learn to read your cattle so you can be in the right place at the right time in the right manner. Once you can do that you will have the ability to work on establishing a manageable responsive herd. If you spend your life with stock learning to work your cattle in this manner will prove extremely rewarding and gratifying.