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The Cattle Connection

Cattle handling reminders

Person paying attention to cattle feeding at a feed trough in a feedlot.

Isn’t it fun to watch people that are good at handling cattle? I love it. We all aspire to be better stockman and handling animals correctly is a big part of that goal. Investing time in animal handling skills improves quality of life, safety, health, and performance… for both animal and human.

While refining animal handling qualities is a life-long learning venture, here are a few areas that I bring as reminders as you work cattle this season.

Evaluate and determine flight zone before handling. Measuring an animal’s flight zone, their attitude, and the handling situation is important to prepare yourself as a handler. Animals have different flight zones. Everything from the 4-H show heifer that has no flight zone, to the fence jumper that is high-headed and wide-eyed. The size of the flight zone impacts handler positioning, facility needs, and even handler safety considerations. Cattle with smaller flight zones need pressure and less distance between the handler and the animal to respond. I generally recommend the facility size match the flight zone size. More important than size of facility is that it takes advantage of natural behaviors of cattle. The “Bud Box” and Temple Grandin’s designs do this well. Lastly, understand the situation. Calving, predator threat, weather changes, and others can impact how animals respond.

Create a mini herd. Avoid single animal handling. Keep cattle in groups. Cattle are herd animals and have a strong herd instinct. Gathering, driving, moving cattle in working facilities is always best done with herd instinct intact. Even if only one animal needs to be treated or run through the working facility, I recommend taking a minimum of 3 animals to create a mini herd.   

Be in the right spot. Correct handler position is our job. If you have worked cattle with someone that has limited cattle handling experience, they are always in the wrong spot. This is a great testimony to how important it is to learn positioning and observe good handlers. There are some great stockmanship programs that aid in understanding this principle. Time and experience are also great teachers. Observing animals as you handle them can help teach you to be a better handler. Improving positioning can greatly improve efficiency as a handler.

Be patient and deliberate. Cattle are looking for a leader and for cues from the handler. Knowing what you are asking cattle to do by your positioning, movement, and posture is important to give the animal a clear direction. A “hurry up” mentality is one of the worst handler qualities to possess. Focusing on being smooth and deliberate when handling cattle works best. Being patient and observant will aid in animal attitude and help troubleshoot difficult situations when they arise.