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Eight top livestock tips from Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin, Colorado State University animal scientist, offered some “do’s and don’ts” to follow when handling livestock when she spoke to about 200 producers at a workshop at the 777 Ranch near Hermosa, S.D..

Key Points

• Temple Grandin’s rules reduce livestock handling stress.

• Top tip is for handlers be calm themselves around animals.

• Handling equipment and facility design can reduce stress levels.

Do calm down. The No. 1 rule is to remain quiet around livestock, she says. Loud voices and yelling scare animals more than clanging gates and chains. Cattle that become agitated don’t gain as much and have lower marbling scores because they put energy into recovering instead of into performance.

Do make first experiences pleasant. Grandin says an important livestock handling principle is to make animals’ first experiences with a new place, piece of equipment or person a favorable one. “They don’t forget,” she say, and adds, “An initial experience that is averse can create a permanent fear memory in that animal.”

She suggests allowing the animal to investigate on its own and introducing new steps gradually. For instance, a guy on a horse and a guy on the ground are two different things to an animal. So if cattle are used to seeing a horse and rider, slowly introduce them to a person walking through the herd (or an ATV), and vice versa. Don’t introduce them to a new experience the day you try to move them. Likewise, 4-H and FFA show animals should be habituated to flags, strange people and noise.

Don’t select for temperament only. Grandin cautions that single-trait selection is never a good idea. For example, she says if you select only for calm cattle, you’ll likely get cows who aren’t good mothers in caring for their calf. That said, wild animals don’t habituate, but just get more scared and probably need to be culled, she says. Seek a middle ground in selecting for disposition.

Don’t keep animals penned alone. “One of the most dangerous animals is the lone animal,” says Grandin. Being alone is highly stressful to animals.

Do let animals settle down. If animals get too excited, Grandin says to give them 20 to 30 minutes to calm down before you try to work them.

Don’t use a hot shot. A flag can drive cattle effectively, says Grandin. If a stubborn animal refuses to move, use a hot shot once and then put it away.

Don’t fill the crowd pen too full. When working animals through a chute, Grandin suggests filling the crowd pen only half full. “Don’t squish them in there. Animals have to be able to move freely,” she says.

Do walk through the crowd pen and chute yourself when it’s empty and pretend you are the animal. See what details you notice at their eye level. “They’ve got to be able to see the entrance, so sometimes switching the side you work from in the pen makes a difference,” she suggests. Also note any items on the ground, such as a pipe or board in the alley, that cattle may balk at. Either remove it, or cover it with dirt so they don’t notice it. If the open sides along the alley or chute bother them, consider covering those with plywood.

Other tips include:

• Use skylights in barns so cattle don’t balk at going into a dark space.

• Use rubber mats in front of a chute (or loading ramp) to prevent cattle from slipping as they move out.

• Keep the color of facilities the same so cattle don’t balk at differences in light and dark.

The workshop was coordinated by the South Dakota Department of Agriculture with support from the Dakota Territory Buffalo Association, Equimedic USA, Farm Credit Services of America, Ag United for South Dakota, the Rapid City Area Chamber of Commerce and the 777 Ranch.

Gordon is a Whitewood, S.D., writer.

Film coming out on DVD

Temple Grandin, who is autistic, credits her ability to think in pictures with giving her unique insights into animal behavior. She has earned international acclaim for her expertise.

Most recently, her work has included conducting animal welfare audits at meat plants for big retail businesses, including McDonald’s and Wendy’s. This past February, she was the subject of the HBO movie “Temple Grandin.”


Expert Advice: Livestock expert Temple Grandin shared her handling tips at the 777 Ranch near Hermosa, S.D.

This article published in the August, 2010 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.