Reminders for safer cattle handling

As we head into a busy time of year for cattle producers and handlers, it’s good to stop and think about the increased risks.

Fall is a dangerous time because there is a lot more movement as ranchers bring in cows and calves that haven’t been touched in months and feedlots operate on long hours.

For those of us who have been working with cattle for years, it’s tempting to think that we already know all the risks involved and how to keep ourselves safe. But complacency, or cutting corners to save time, is often the culprit when it comes to farm injuries.

This is why we at AgSafe Alberta like producers to remember that it’s always a good idea to remind yourself, and your staff, of the basics when it comes to animal handling.

When completing jobs on the farm or ranch, the safety of humans is top priority, followed by the safety of the animals. The lowest priority is the safety of property. Think of this pyramid when making decisions and assessments for safety practices.

We believe in low-stress cattle handing because it promotes safer work, healthier and more relaxed cattle and greater productivity.

What is low-stress cattle management? Basically, it means understanding why and how cattle act and react and then designing an environment and processes that accommodate their existing behaviour instead of trying to force unnatural behaviour.

This translates into ensuring your herd’s first handling experience is a positive one, always being consistent in practices to build trust, limiting loud noises, and always maintaining a consistent level of control over your herd.

Low-stress animal handling ensures the handler is in an optimal position at all times to not trigger negative responses in cattle. Each animal has a flight zone and may respond unpredictably if you move into it. For example, if you move behind their shoulder, they’ll move forward. If you move in front of them they’ll back up or stop. If you apply pressure to either of these areas but the animal does not have a path to release the pressure (for example, if you walk toward their head while their back is against a fence) they may try to release the pressure through you, leading to an unsafe situation.

Knowing and understanding the flight zone and other typical cattle responses are key.

Low-stress cattle management is also understanding how cattle are most comfortable travelling. They move best together because they are herd animals so it’s always best to avoid separating them, especially when moving them through animal handling systems.

Training your family and workers with basic knowledge of animal behaviour is a good safety policy.

A few reminders when it comes to safe animal handling:

  • Never get close enough to be kicked.
  • Always have an escape route planned.
  • Use no more force than necessary.
  • Take your time.

Karleen Clark is a director of AgSafe Alberta and serves with the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association.

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