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Understanding how cattle think can help handlers, veterinarian says

Kansas

Handling cattle can be a challenge under the best of circumstances, but those who do--from cow-calf producer to feedlot cowboy to livestock hauler--will find that the better they understand how cattle think as animals of prey, the better they will be at enhancing cattle health and performance, said veterinarian Tom Noffsinger.

"Prey animals have survived in nature, aware that predators select the lame, depressed and weak, to harvest," said Noffsinger, who is a cattle handling expert. "If caretakers behave like predators, cattle will hide signs of depression and disease from these people as long as possible. Understanding more about the visual, auditory and sensory abilities of cattle encourages handlers to override their predator tendencies, such as to chase and yell."

He will speak on the topic at the 2010 International Symposium onBeef Cattle Welfare May 19 to 21 on the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan. The symposium, which will feature numerous well-known speakers, is hosted by K-State's Beef Cattle Institute.

"Handlers who reward cattle motion with release of pressure can quickly train cattle--and in doing so, create mutual respect and develop trust," Noffsinger said. "Understanding that cattle like to see what is pressuring them and where they can go is fundamental to low-stress handling. Caretakers who concentrate on low-stress handling skills increase their powers of observation, recognize abnormal behavior and attitude and develop the confidence and skill to manipulate behavior to improve levels of animal welfare."

Another presenter at the symposium, K-State assistant professor Lily Edwards, will speak on the topic: "How can industries respond to public concern?"

"Consumers are looking for answers regarding where their food comes from and how it is raised," said Edwards, whose primary work is in animal welfare. "I think we as an industry need to be the first ones to give them those answers--not from animal rights groups, not from their neighbors and not necessarily from the media, but from the producers themselves who have the best understanding of how food is produced. And sure, there may be aspects of animal production that consumers don't like--there probably always will be--but it is our job to explain to them why we do things and if there is a management practice that we do that is questionable, then we need to be able to admit that there is room for improvement and make steps towards change."

"The majority of consumers aren't animal rights activists--they just want to ask questions about where their food comes from," she said.

Other speakers include Temple Grandin, a Colorado State University animal science professor who has earned a reputation for designing livestock handling systems using her in-depth understanding of animal behavior; Joseph Stookey, an applied ethologist and sustainable beef systems research expert from the University of Saskatchewan; Mike Siemens, leader, animal welfare and husbandry for Cargill AnimalProtein; Glynn Tonsor, assistant professor of agricultural economics at Michigan State; and Ron Gill, professor and Extension livestock specialist for Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

Conference presentations will include such topics as: Answering public questions about beef production; How to set up and implement an auditing system in beef cattle operations; How can the beef industry better communicate to governmental entities; Teaching beef cattle welfare in the field; Analgesic pharmacology and management of pain associated with dehorning, castration and lameness; Management of culled dairy cows; Animal welfare at the beef packing level; How do we benchmark animal welfare progress in our industries; What are the economics associated with welfare; and more.

For those unable to attend in person, a live webcast option is available again this year.

The conference will be preceded by a half-day session on emergency preparedness for those involved in the beef industry. That session, which begins at 1 p.m., May 19 in Weber Arena, will cover such topics as handling loose cattle after an accident; moving downed animals, humane safety and handling fractious animals; humane euthanasia techniques and choices in the field and emergency response techniques for wounded cattle.

The registration fee of $150 includes the half-day Emergency Preparedness Session and the on-site symposium. Registration for the live webcast at an individual's location is $150 and $500 for a live webcast group. The fee covers participation in all symposium sessions, one lunch, refreshment breaks and symposium proceedings.

More information, including online registration, is available on the web at www.isbcw.beefcattleinstitute.org.



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