Quiet. That’s how cattleman Terry Hedeman wants it when he’s processing cattle. The Dade County farmer has come to learn over the years that whooping and hollering just doesn’t work.
And, he is quick to credit his wife, Jan, as the key ingredient for smooth sailing when it comes to moving cattle down the alley to the chute.
“Jan’s the secret,” Hedeman admits. “She never says a word. We forget she’s back there, and she just keeps ’em coming.”
A quiet environment is just one key element in low-stress cattle handling techniques, which are proving to benefit both producer and consumer.
According to information published by the University of Missouri commercial agriculture program, low-stress cattle handling is both an economically sound business decision and an animal welfare issue.
• Low-stress cattle handling benefits producers and consumers.
• Understanding the animals’ flight zone is imperative in cattle handling.
• A good “first experience” for cattle means success later.
“It’s becoming more important every day that we handle cattle in a low-stress manner,” says Stan Lock, a marketing specialist with Genex/CRI.
Lock addressed cattle producers at this year’s Monett Beef Cattlemen’s Conference on low-stress handling techniques. “The end user of our product wants to know how cattle are handled,” he emphasizes, “and handling affects carcass quality.”
Handle with care
Low-stress cattle handling is all about creating and managing movement.
According to Colorado State University animal scientist and cattle handling expert Temple Grandin, acclimating animals to handling reduces stress. “An animal’s first experience with new people, places or equipment must be good.”
Hedeman is not always the one who feeds his cattle, so when processing time nears, he makes certain to spend extra time with the cattle so they get used to him. “I talk to my cattle, to get them used to my voice, any time I’m out there with them,” he says.
With cattle at different locations, Hedeman’s setup includes stationary corrals, and a portable alley and chute. The portable alley, one Hedeman’s son Grant built in high school, is equipped with wheels and a hydraulic jack for ease of movement.
Hedeman is a firm believer in gathering the cattle first before setting up the chute and alley. “If they hear that chute coming, they know something’s up,” he says.
When working cattle, Grandin says operating with the crowd pen half-full works well. “A big mistake with crowd pens is putting too many animals in the pen,” she maintains.
Grandin adds that having an understanding of the animals’ flight zone is essential. “The edge of the flight zone is the best place to be when moving animals.”
A calm, steady motion with optimal pressure for holding the animal delivers desirable results, Grandin says.
Ease into equipment
When it comes to cattle handling facilities, both Grandin’s curved chute and the Bud Williams Bud Box provide success for low stress.
Grandin maintains that with a curved chute, when an animal comes in from the crowd pen they do not see people standing around, making entry easier.
In contrast, a Bud Box setup consists of a 14-by-24-foot box with two man gates that lead to an alley. Lock maintains, “If you can build fence, you can build a Bud Box.”
According to Eldon Cole, an MU Extension livestock specialist, “We’ve seen a number of new corrals built with low-stress concepts that promote good cattle handling techniques. Tradition is hard to overcome, but little by little we’re getting there as people discover it’s profitable to put those practices to work on their farm.”
Enjoying the slow life
In a day and time when public perception means more and more to agriculture, low-stress handling provides a direct benefit to the producer.
Improved cattle handling alleviates unnecessary stress to the animal while allowing the producer to move cattle more efficiently and effectively. MU commercial agriculture documents that ultimately, low-stress handling increases efficiency and weight gain without additional inputs, which means less money spent for medication, treatment and facilities.
“The bottom line is, the beef industry has a lot of eyes looking at it,” Cole explains. “By following low-stress methods as best you can, you’ll find more enjoyment and get better performance from your cattle.”
Pipkin writers from Republic.
CALMING EFFECT: When it comes to handling cattle, Terry Hedeman’s top priority is a quiet environment. The Dade County farmer talks to his livestock ahead of working time to get them used to his voice, and hand-feeds them to aid the gathering process.
This article published in the May, 2012 edition of MISSOURI RURALIST.