The Feedlot Special Olympics: A guide on how to effectively lower animal handling standards.

Last month, I competed in the Zoetis Feedlot Challenge. It’s a feedlot competition in southern Alberta where teams from various feedlots demonstrate their processing and pen checking prowess, and their knowledge of antibiotics, vaccines, and diseases associated with feedlot production. Over the past few years, this has been a great event that’s promoted low stress cattle handling in the area. This year, however, seemed to be a huge step backwards. 

Almost every aspect of the event was excellent.  The processing went smooth, the exam was fair, the steaks were rare and the beer was cold.  My qualms lie in the pen checking competition, and specifically the judging. There was way too much emphasis put on pressuring the animals out of the pen.  Truly effective cattle handlers understand pressure and release. If you don’t provide release at the gate, and continue to pressure it out, you will change the behavior of that animal and his pen mates. If you are checking high risk calves, this will translate to missed pulls every time. 

When we spend three years promoting pressure and release and showing cattle the way out, what message do we send when we tell the pen checkers to chase them out the gate in the fourth year? We are telling them to revert, to just do it how we did before. 

So kudos to the judge, Curt Pate.  Anybody who promotes better livestock handling deserves credit, but in the future, the bar needs to be set higher. Every time we work cattle we have to strive for perfection and effectiveness.  When the winning team has negative motion in half the pen, this is far from effective. I hope that in the future, our industry sets higher standards for handling and aims for goals that are a little loftier than what’s easily achieved. 

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