If you have read some of my recent blogs you know I am a strong advocate for learning and using low-stress stockmanship methods when handling cattle.
Three examples of these blogs are here, here and here.
I firmly believe success in cattle handling has more to do with having the right skills than it will ever have to do with the right facilities. Granted however, good facilities go a long way in making handling cattle a much safer and more enjoyable process.
However, the headline to a recent article I came across in another agriculture publication would have the reader believe it is neither skill nor facility design which can lead to difficulty and disaster when handling cattle. Instead, the cattle are most likely to blame and more specifically cattle of an aggressive nature.
The author says the following about handling livestock, "Sometimes it seems that busted lips, broken toes, bruised ribs and sprains come with the territory." In addition she shares statistics on livestock-related injuries and fatalities from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Safety Council.
Of the fatalities examined in the CDCP study in the 4 states researched between 2003 and 2008, roughly one-third were attributed to aggressive animals. With only 21 fatalities examined this seems to me a poor sample from which to draw conclusions. Statistics giving a more industry-wide perspective may be more convincing.
I'm not trying to make light of death from livestock-related accidents. It is a serious issue and one which has affected people I have known over the years.
I have had my fair share of bumps and bruises from a run-in with a cow now and again growing up with and working around cattle. However, such happenings are ones which I don't think have to be or should be commonplace. Livestock-related fatalities could be greatly reduced if we would strive to take a better approach to handling by making sure we are properly prepared and work smarter, not harder.
Writing bold headlines based on data from outdated research that covered a small sample from only four states does little to promote a desire to learn or improve stockmanship skills. Instead, we must create an incentive to learn stockmanship much like that discussed by Curt Pate on his stockmanship blog.
According to Pate, "Stock will gain better, sick and death loss will be less, injury to animals and humans will be less, and it is easier to train people to work animals properly, in less time."
"Remember…”It’s the right thing to do,” for all the reasons I mentioned above," says Pate. "But I feel the most important factor that should cause you to want to improve stockmanship skills is the self satisfaction and fulfillment you get from improving the way you do things."
There will always be aggressive cattle. That is where a good culling program comes into place. In addition, well-designed facilities can help greatly when handling skills are limited but they should not be used as an excuse not to learn or improve upon what skills one already has. More times than not it is our lack of skill that is too blame, not the cattle or facilities.
Using the right approach, many cattle can be safely handled with very little to no stress in a variety of situations -- even unfamiliar or poorly designed corral systems. A true stockman takes a low-stress, integrated, comprehensive, holistic approach to livestock handling and continually has the welfare of the animals in his care at the forefront of his mind.
In the end, it all comes down to our individual skill and desire to improve if we are going to truly be the best stockmen we can be. The beef industry could still do with more stockmanship.