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Work cattle with care

Updated: 02/04/2014 @ 8:39am

The way you handle cattle goes a long way toward making the work go smoothly. In fact, safety for both animals and humans depends in large part on smart handling practices.

An Oklahoma State University study evaluated causes of injuries to people sustained while handling cattle. Of 150 injuries on 100 cow-calf operations, 50% were due to human error in handling. Shortfalls in equipment and facilities accounted for 25% of the injuries.

“While disposition, previous treatment of the animals, and design of facilities certainly play a role in how livestock handle, the biggest variable in safe cattle handling is people,” says Darrell Busby, retired Iowa State University beef specialist who currently manages Iowa’s Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity.

Busby is involved in the processing activities associated with Futurity members’ 9,000 head of cattle custom-fed in nine Iowa feedyards. In addition to gathering feeding performance on cattle enrolled in the program, the Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity reports disposition scores on cattle and uses these, in part, as a tool in assessing the effectiveness of handling practices and design of facilities at participating feedlots.

“When handling cattle, the primary goal should be ensuring the safety of both people and animals,” says Busby. “Handling should be done quietly and efficiently, thus, reducing the stress on both cattle and people.”

Reduces labor

Such low-stress handling serves as an important tool in reducing labor for father-and-son team Roger and Cale Jones. With minimal outside help, the two run a 175-cow beef herd near Shenandoah, Iowa. Along with that, they operate a 650-head on-farm lot where they finish their own calves and custom-feed cattle for the Tri-County Steer Carcass Futurity. They grow hay and row crops to feed to the livestock.

Finding ways to reduce stress on cattle, in turn, reduces stress and labor for them. 

“If things go smoothly while handling a cow, she’ll most likely be willing to do over again what you’ve asked her to do,” says Roger Jones. “On the other hand, if she has a bad experience during handling, she remembers it, and it makes her hard to handle in the future. Cows that are hard to handle are stressful on people.”

Reducing stress while working cattle efficiently can result from taking the following six steps.

1. Check your attitude. “Human error is the primary cause of many types of accidents,” says Busby, “and errors in judgment occur most often when people are tired, hurried, upset, preoccupied, or careless. Human physical, psychological, and physiological factors greatly affect the occurrence of life-threatening accidents.”

If certain days bring general or personal conditions causing you to not want to handle cattle that day, Busby suggests you consider working at other tasks.

“When you really want to work cattle, you are more patient, and everything goes smoother and quieter,” he says. “That makes things better for the cattle.”

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