When it doesn’t come naturally, the proper care can improve cow herd disposition and performance.
Tom Noffsinger, veterinarian and low-stress animal handling specialist from Benkelman, Neb., says working cattle can prove an old equation: investing a little more time then can have significant payoffs down the road.
Focus on handling techniques that will build trust between animals and caregivers. Here are a few animal handling tips from Noffsinger:
- “Cows should never go through a gate without their calves by their sides.” If they must be transported, move them as pairs. In grazing situations, don’t force mammas and babies to separate to find food.
- “We as caregivers can enhance the number of times a baby nurses.” If a cow doesn’t trust her caregiver, she’ll hide her baby and only go back to nurse 2-3 times a day. That decreases the amount of transferred immunity and other vital maternal bonding the calf gets.
- “Never process calves until they are willing to leave their favorite corner and go single-file into an alley.” Taking the time to move animals through every corner of each place they will be staying – each pen, pasture, processing facility or barn – is essential to building animal-caregiver relationships. If they trust the facility, they’ll trust what you want them to do in it, too, including eating and drinking.
- "Those electric prongs are just like a can of beer - if you have them in your hand, you will probably use it." ‘Hot-shots’ and other tools that startle animals into movement should be avoided. Having one in your hand will inevitably lead to over-using it and can cause animals to balk and startle the rest of the herd.
- “If you are working behind an animal, you need to know that is an incredibly ineffective place to be.” Cattle want to be able to see you and see what is pressuring them. They react best to what they can see. It’s important to understand animals’ flight zones to do this effectively.
- “Speak the language of the cattle – that doesn’t involve using our voices.” Instead, good stockmanship relies on non-verbal communication – it’s all about the position, distance, speed and angle of the stockman in respect to the animal. Again, refer to animals’ flight zones to learn to control those techniques.