11/1/18: Easy Handling

One of my favorite things in managing cattle is witnessing the difference regular interaction with animals has on disposition and workability.  As a low-overhead, low-input program, our investment comes in the handling and management of animals, not profit-reducing inputs.  One of the greatest investments we make is in the way we handle and manage our animals.  Anyone can get a group of animals to run to a feed truck; but, if that’s all one’s working with, step out the door and watch them scatter.

We move and handle our animals on foot.  I have watched, and myself wasted, hours trying to call–or push–animals with trucks and then seen the difference and simplicity in dismounting from the vehicle and moving them with simple pressure on foot.

Through rotational grazing, we condition animals to move readily and regularly, which aids in the ease with which animals are caught, handled, and worked.  By having a regular on-foot presence among our animals, their dispositions are greatly improved, and when it does finally come time to load the trailer, it is an orderly and efficient process.

While all of this may sound irrelevant to a bottom line, here are a few considerations:

  1. Docile animals are proven to gain better, and have improved marbling, over animals that are flighty, spooky, and easily agitated.  This goes to the bottom line of backgrounders, feeders, and packers.
  2. When working animals, what would you prefer: animals that work easily and cooperate with handlers, or excitable animals that resist you and the physical constraints of working facilities?  What is reducing the risk of injury to you or an animal worth?  I’d pay money for easy handling animals, and when I’ve taken wild ones to the sale barn, it feels like you’re giving them away, but there is also value to future improvement in eliminating trouble animals.

When working animals, we use low stress handling techniques keeping awareness of animals’ natural desire to herd, natural response to application of pressure (positioning and distance of handler to a specific animal or group), and handler positioning.  Animals are like people, and whether they improve or regress in their workability is often a result of our own actions and behaviors.  Here are a few videos among our Spring ’18 calves out on pasture:

Push/Pull Pressure  (This video shows a group of calves that have just been caught, sorted, and released.  Our low stress handling pressure here is a combination of both push and pull.  Some animals were already turned out to the next paddock.  The animals wanted through the closed gate, but as I went to it, they moved away from me and the gate.  After opening the gate, I moved from my position at the gate and moved to another spot to the side of the group.  This removal of pressure at the gate “pulled” animals back towards the gate, and my closing pressure towards the animals once movement towards the gate began “pushed” animals on through the gate.  You can see, animals–even after being caught and sorted–remain calm and easy handling.)

Turning Weaned Calves Back onto Pasture (This video shows our spring ’18 calves minutes after being dry-lotted 24 hours and then returned back to pasture post-weaning date.  We used only a double strand wire to contain them and prevent them running an immediate fence beside their dams.)

Walking the “Wild Ones” Into the Working Lane  (This video shows a few of our “wild” calves being walked into a working lane.  What you don’t see is the approximate ten minutes it took to get them turned and moving in the correct direction out of a pasture, and their subsequent walk across a large open lot and then down the lane.  These were caught and worked by a single individual applying low-stress handling to control and direct animal/herd movement.  At the end, you will see the video cut as a trail animal begins to turn, I needed to take my eyes off the screen and apply a quick amount of added pressure to redirect her attention and movement forward with the rest of the group.)