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.
So for no apparent reason today, I got thinking today about the predator versus prey relationship between handlers and their livestock. A very wise man once told me its important that you don’t present yourself as a predator as you enter a group of cattle. For this reason, I believe it’s important to have a presence as you approach the cattle. When you watch any show on the Discovery Channel, the big cat always stalks its prey in a lowered position before pouncing at the last moment. If we approach the cattle in a similar manner, we could have some ugly consequences.
I think that as we come up to the cattle, it’s important that we make ourselves visible and tell them “Hey, I’m here and I’m in charge.” Body language is the best way to start this dialogue. Stand up tall and tell the cattle you’re here. You don’t want to be the cheetah sneaking around the side. Be confident in your movements. Your confidence will manifest itself in the motion of the cattle.
The other thing to remember is the cattle should always volunteer their movement. We should never force it. Use their eye to push or pull the head in the direction you want, and parallel movement past the eye to start and stop movement with the animals. Following these tips should help with any cattle handling you need to do
What I’m going to talk about today isn’t necessarily new or revolutionary, but it’s something a lot of us need to be reminded of from time to time. As we were bringing a group of cattle up to the hospital barn for treatment today, the doctors started whooping and whistling and hollering as we got close to the barn. Almost on cue, both ears on every animal pointed straight back at them and the cattle stopped. A bit more noise and they turned around to face them. After some screaming and arm waving, they got the cattle locked behind the bud box.
Excessive noise will almost always have a negative impact on cattle movement. It’s important to remember as we trail cattle up an alley, that we let them focus on where they are going, rather than where we are. If we set the cattle up for movement from the moment we approach the holding pen, they will go almost anywhere regardless of distractions. Here’s a few tips for bringing cattle up to the hospital or processing barn.
First, the cattle are looking to you for guidance as soon as you come into their line of sight. You can use this to figure out which animals want the guidance and are going to lead the group out.
Don’t go immediately to the back of the pen and push the cattle out. Find your friend looking for guidance and use pressure and release to work him out of the pen. Always remember to work his eye, work him from the side, and if he hesitates, show him the way again. If all goes well, he will give the others confidence and you can lean on the fence and check Facebook while they all walk out.
As the cattle move up the alley, don’t be a distraction. This is where silence is golden!!!! If the cattle balk hold them and let them figure out where to go. Cattle only process one thought at a time, so if they’re distracted by something in front and you hollering in the back, they’ll go back to a safe place, usually the holding pen.
Finally, minimize distractions along the way. Turn off the chute and radio, and make sure your co workers know not to loiter around the barn as you’re moving the cattle. If you take care of these little things, it should make handling around the barn a lot simpler and safer.