Reduce work stress on cattle and handler

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.

Key Points

• 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.

Cattle handling pointers

Understanding cattle behavior can mean the difference between a successful experience and one that ends in disaster. Following are four basic principles of cattle behavior that when used properly can improve the ease and speed of working cattle, while reducing stress and increasing efficiency.

Cattle want to see you. An understanding of how cattle see is basic to getting cattle to respond to your position when working livestock. Cattle can see everywhere but directly behind them or in a small blind spot in front of them. Movement toward the blind spot behind them causes an animal to turn its head to keep you in its line of sight.

Cattle want to go around you. Armed with this tip, position yourself such that when they do go around you, they are pointed directly at the gate or destination you had in mind. They’ll think it was their idea to go there!

Cattle want to be with, and will go to, other cattle. A herding instinct is natural among “prey” animals. There is safety in numbers and they know it. As cattle producers, we can take advantage of this natural instinct as we work from the front of cattle. If you start at the front, the back will follow. This is also why you should never leave one animal alone in a pen.

Cattle can think of only one thing at a time. If cattle are thinking about anything other than what you are asking them to do, you will need to change their mind first before putting pressure on them. Fear is the biggest distraction, and perception that the handler is a “predator” must be avoided.

Sources: Texas AgriLife Extension, Ron Gill, professor and Extension livestock specialist; Curt Pate, Montana rancher; and Rick Machen, professor and Extension livestock specialist


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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.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.