Good stockmanship is an important and highly skilled job that does not get enough credit.
Animal behaviourist Temple Grandin has been advocating kindness and patience with livestock throughout her 40-year career. She said she finds she must continue to stress good stockmanship because improvements for the simplest things are still needed.
“When I started my career back in the ’70s, I thought if I could manufacture the perfect, magical cattle-handling facility that would fix everything,” she said at the University of Calgary veterinary summit held last month.
“What I found is I could fix maybe half the problems with new facilities. The other half is the management.”
Based at the University of Colorado, she is still teaching students and producers the concepts of recognizing fear in cattle and how to properly use equipment like chutes, pens, develop non-slip flooring and install lights in the right places.
“Forty years later, I still have to talk about it,” she said.
Getting cattle to co-operate and preventing injuries starts at the farm and managers must believe in the concepts of low-stress handling.
“The top sets the tone when it comes to stockmanship,” she said.
“Stockmanship has improved but there are places out there where there is still really bad cattle handling.”
Good stockmanship means more walking and learning where to stand when trying to move cattle to avoid entering their flight zones and frightening them.
New things may be attractive or may startle animals. When they are allowed to voluntarily approach something different and check it out it lowers their stress levels. They are visual thinkers and need to see what is happening.
Chute design is important. Cattle have to see there is a place to go ahead of them with no dead ends. When it comes to getting them to move through facilities, it is still hard for people to stop yelling and waving their arms when trying to get cattle to co-operate.
Grandin has developed handling techniques for packing plants and audits animal and people behaviour at establishments. She has written objective scoring systems to note whether cattle are moving freely and quietly. She looks for physical problems like lameness, cleanliness, stress or other injuries.
“When I see something wrong at the packing plant, it is something you have to fix at the farm,” she said.
She is also noticing the trend toward larger cattle that are subsequently getting hurt on the farm, during transport and at packing plants.
“We need to change the calf, not the trucks,” she said.
Information on facility designs, animal handling and behaviour can be viewed at www.grandin.com.