Keeping cattle calm can improve beef quality

Watching flight zone and balance points helps hold animals in right frame of mind and moving in the right direction

NEW ORLEANS, La. — Learning how to move cattle with little fuss can be an enjoyable experience that doesn’t cost money.

Beef quality and stockmanship go together because calm animals can be more profitable, said Curt Pate, who runs livestock-handling clinics across North America.

“It will require an investment in time and thought and reflection,” he said during an animal handling clinic at the recent National Cattlemen’s Beef Association convention held in New Orleans.

Concepts developed by University of Colorado animal behaviourist Temple Grandin have been refined from low-stress handling to effective stockmanship, said Pate.

The concepts of watching the flight zone and balance points holds the animal in the right frame of mind so it keeps moving in the direction the handler wants. Arm flapping and yelling works one out of 10 times, he said.

“Think about the pressure you put on the cattle and the response you want to get rather than flight zone,” he said.

A flight zone is like the animal’s personal space. It is the minimum distance the animal will try to maintain between itself and a perceived threat.

“How close can I get to these cattle working where they are not afraid but they are still working? You want to be able to work these cattle in a way that their minds stay on the thinking side of the brain and not on the survival side.”

If the handler walks up to the side of the animal, it will stop and turn, then look at the person with both eyes.

“The more flightier they are the more they will go by you quicker so they can get around you and look at you with two eyes. Then they have depth perception and know where they are,” he said.

The balance point is always changing.

Grandin defines the point of balance at the animal’s shoulder and it is determined by the animal’s wide angle vision. When moving the animals it could shift up to the eye area. All species of livestock will move forward if the handler stands behind the point of balance. They will back up if the handler stands in front of the point of balance.

Once someone learns the techniques the next responsibility is to teach other people on the farm crew how to do it properly. However, the concept can be hard to explain. Attitude and mannerisms from the handler stir up the cattle or calm them.

If an animal needs to be removed from the herd, providing it with feed first can have a calming effect as it chews and swallows.

Learning these skills has more value than just moving cattle into chutes or pens.

“You can find signs of cattle that don’t look normal quicker than if cattle are afraid of you,” he said.

“When they start showing signs of fear then you can’t read the ones that need your attention,” he said.

“Get cattle to trust you so you can treat earlier with less powerful antibiotics.”

When handling replacement heifers, he suggests moving them into a chute or a calving barn so they get used to it and know where to go.

Pate’s stockmanship principles:

  • cattle want to see you
  • cattle want to go around you
  • cattle want to be with and will go to other cattle
  • cattle want to remove pressure
  • cattle can only have one main thought at a time

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