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No-stress cattle handling

You’ve got to see Melissa Arhart’s video of how she and her husband, Andrew, work cattle.

There’s no hooting or hollering. No waving flags. No ropes. No cutting horses. No fast-moving ATVs. No pickups.

One person just walks, either on foot or on horseback, back and forth along the cows. Things are so quiet and relaxed, you’ll probably want to nod off while watching.

But boy, the Arharts get things done. Pretty soon those cows are slinking off in twos and threes, just in the direction that the handler wants them to go, and they end up in the crowding tub at the top end of a working chute.

And surprise! The cattle go into the chute on their own. The handler doesn’t even use the crowding gate; he or she just steps into the corner so the cows can see them, and the cows take off down the alley like rabbits diving in a hole.

Key Points

• Low-stress cattle handling will work in any facility.

• The technique is easy on cattle and on handlers.

• Local woman is conducting seminars and has a DVD.

Good as a herd dog

The Arharts — who operate a cow-calf, stocker and feedlot operation with Andrew’s brother Jonathan and his father, LaVerne, near Alpena, S.D. — use a low-stress handling method that they learned from Bud Williams and veterinarian Tom Noffsinger.

Williams and Noffsinger are famed cattle handlers who have worked the biggest feedlots in the U.S. and Canada. Williams is the inventor of the “Bud Box,” which is replacing crowding tubs in many cattle working facilities.

Seeing Melissa’s video is the best way to understand how to move cattle without causing them to get wild and woolly. But the method might be described as trying to act like a good herd dog. Good ones don’t rush at cattle as if they are attacking them. They zigzag back and forth to the side. To get the cows to move, they move closer, but then they back off.

Mellisa calls it “pressuring the eye.” As long as cattle can see you, they’re content to move along quietly.

You don’t need fancy facilities with curved working chutes, tall walls and crowding tubs with big, massive gates. In fact, the more open facilities are, the better, because cows need to see you.

“The cattle are so focused on responding to the handler’s pressure, and keeping the handler in their field of vision, they aren’t looking at things to spook at,” Melissa says.

Made a difference

The Arharts use the stockman’s skills in the feedlot when they process or load cattle and in the pasture when they need to work cows and calves. They use the same approach to catch newborn calves and tag them.

The techniques have really made a difference, Melissa says.

“We haven’t used a stick, flag or hot shot in years. Now we use body language.”

Cattle are calmer and healthier, and the Arharts need fewer people to help them process cattle. Large feedlots have saved a significant amount of money on vet visits and shots after adopting low-stress handling methods.

Working cattle used to be stressful for them and the animals, says Melissa, who in addition to working their own cattle, ultrasounds 10,000 head annually at feedlots throughout the region. “Now it’s fun.”

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WORKING SKILLS: Melissa Arhart has learned an easy, low-stress way to move cattle.

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

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.