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Economical and practical reasons for using reduced stress cattle handling methods


Possibly the most economical for a cattle producer to increase their profit is by using cattle handling methods which reduce stress on your cattle. Articles have been written by Dr. Temple Grandin of the University of Colorado and livestock handling expert Bud Williams showing that by reducing stress on cattle during handling that gains in feedlots can increase by a half pound a day, medical costs can be cut in half, and packer discounts for bruises and dark cutters can also be significantly reduced. This is added money producers could be making without any cash outlay. It can also add money to the pockets of cow/calf and yearling outfits.
    For every 0.5% shrink you prevent at branding you are making an “extra” $0.40 per calf at $0.80 calves. Saving another  0.5% shrink while making a pasture move when the calves are at 200 pounds amounts to another $0.80 per calf. Save another 0.5% when weaning 500 pound calves and you have just made another $2.00 per head for a total of $3.20 per head at $0.80 calves. Some years this “extra” cash can be the difference between operating at a profit or loss.
    To give an example of just how handling can affect your gains, I will use a yearling operation I worked for in the early 80’s. The ranch was running 2,200 head of yearling steers subleasing the pasture to another owner. We moved the steers twice in addition to shipping, and my boss (an ex-crop duster) figured it was quicker and “cheaper” to gather the pastures with an airplane than to hire extra help. On one pasture move the boss had something come up and it slipped his mind. I decided to go out and gather the 478 steers myself. Starting at the back of the 3 section pasture and throwing one bunch into the other I managed to get the job done in one day. There was basically no difference between all of the pastures, yet this one group of steers averaged 7.5 pounds more than the rest of the steers. Multiplying the 7.5 pounds time the number of moves (3) you come up with a total of 22.5 pounds per animal he ran off in the name of saving money. The total this cost on the 1,192 steers we shipped would have been 26,820 pounds. The prices at that time were around $0.75 so in essence he spent $20,115 in order to save a couple of hundred dollars hiring extra help, which really wasn't needed other than when we shipped.
    How do you handle cattle in a reduced stress manner? First forget about the “flight or fight” instinct.  As there are really very few wild cattle anymore, the “fight or flight” is not an accurate description of working cattle unless you are doing things drastically wrong. This is especially true in a feedlot situation where pen checkers are riding through the cattle on a daily basis. Even on a ranch, if your cattle are wild, it is your own fault!  If the riders are doing their job properly, and if you are actually taking care of your cattle properly, then why should the cattle have any real fear of the people handling them?  Too many people seem to think they can just turn the cattle out in the spring and gather them in the fall, then wonder why they have missing cattle and are heavily discounted because of lameness and bad eyes.  Operations that pull everyone out of the cattle to go farm or put up hay are costing themselves in higher death loss, excess shrink when they do handle their cattle, and being discounted at sale time for lame and blind cattle which will not compete as well for bunk space at the feedlot. 
    The second step is actually in forgetting about the flight zones described in the “flight or flight” methods of handling cattle. Cattle, whether they are actually wild or if they are accustomed to being handled, have a natural  handle, only the size of the “bubble” in which they react to  you changes.
    Before you assume that I don't believe that cattle have a “flight or fight” instinct, they do. So do all animals including grizzly bears and humans. You just don't want to use this instinct to handle cattle as it creates excess stress and makes you and your horse work harder. The easier you make it for the cow to go where you want, the easier it is on your horse, and in turn the easier your job is. I like to look at the “bubble” mentioned in the “flight or fight” theories as a comfort zone. This zone, and the reaction cattle have to it is much like people in a crowded mall or rodeo. Rather than going in a straight line to the beer stand (at least for your first one), your course is decided by how you are pressured by the crowd. The same is true with cattle. When you move into their comfort zone, they react by moving off. Their direction and speed is determined by your actions. Approach fast and aggressive and the flight instinct kicks in and the cow will move fast. By approaching in a relaxed manner, and from the proper angle, the cow will walk off  in the direction you want. Even if the cow starts to run off, change your course a half degree, and stop. The cow will stop and look at you rather than trotting off as it had begun to do, and you have gained control rather than losing it at the start. If gaining control is so easy, then why do we have so much trouble?
    The instinct we have as humans (which we also instill in our horses) is to speed up to try and turn the cow by heading it off it takes off fast. Nearly as often as we get the cow turned towards the gate, it will turn and run off in the opposite direction turning what should have been a simple task, into running around the pen and stampeding the rest of the cattle in the pen while we are cussing the “dumb (*&(&%$#* cow.” In addition to causing stress on the cow we are pulling from the pen, we are causing stress on all of the cattle in the pen (sometimes culminating in the “dumb cow” breaking through the fence rather than going out the gate). We need to think about what the cow is doing when it runs off.
    First it runs off because we have put too much pressure on it. Secondly, as cattle want to keep an eye on what is after them, 95% of the time they are trying to run around us. The other 5% have either been handled wrong and have been taught to just outrun pursuit or are sick enough that they ignore their natural instincts. This is even true of semi-wild cattle in big pastures. They are running around you in a big circle. By trying to head them off to turn them we are turning things into a race. By changing our angle to make it harder for the cow to get around us which slows things down and allows us to keep control of the situation. The better we read the cow, and the sooner we make the adjustment, the calmer the cow remains. Even cattle which have been handled wrong and have been spoiled, can be retrained. Fresh cattle coming into a feedlot, especially ones which are a little on the wild side, need to be trained. This is not a hard thing to do and really doesn't take more than a few minutes a day for less than a week.
      Next month we will be covering how to settle (or train) fresh cattle coming into a feedlot. Settling fresh cattle in this manner will help you to learn the basic ways to keep cattle calm, relaxed and under control whether you are working all of the cattle in a pen or trying to pull one cow out of the pen. This series of articles will not only cover how to handle cattle with less stress, but also how to train your horse as well. Being able to do this will not only help your horse handling cattle in the pasture or pen, but will also make them more versatile in the arena, no matter what cattle event you compete in.



Herd Behavior
Economics
Watching the Gate
Cost effectiveness of intensive grazing
Stopping your horse


Contact
Bud Williams Stockmanship
About Bob 2lazy4U Home        The Bovine Blog services