0119WFSLivestockHandlingMRJ.cfm Livestock handling demos give farm show attendees practical tips
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Livestock handling demos give farm show attendees practical tips

By Susan McCabe


Journal stock photo.

Old dogs really can learn new tricks, especially when it comes to safe and effective livestock handling. Western Farm Show attendees will have the opportunity to learn best practice on the topic during the 2012 Livestock Handling demonstration on Feb. 24 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Texas AgriLife Extension Specialist Ron Gill, Ph.D., is back for a second year to lead this educational demonstration at the Scott Pavilion, adjacent to the American Royal Complex where the Farm Show is held. Gill says the demonstration is geared toward cattle handlers at all levels of experience, including the "cowboy, buckaroo, cow hand, cow man, farm hand or stockman."

"Cattle are not stupid and usually do what they are asked to do," Gill says. "However, if asked incorrectly, cattle will not necessarily do what you want or need them to do. When this happens, we have come to rely on facilities, equipment or manpower to force them to do what is needed. This results in increased stress on cattle and hands and results in cattle getting more difficult to handle over time."

At the core of Gill's demonstration are tips for improving productivity, minimizing injuries to livestock and people, lowering overall operating costs and contributing to improved final product quality. The tips have a direct impact on the success of cow-calf, seedstock, stocker and feeder operations. In fact, Gill says there are five basic principles of cattle behavior that, when used properly, can improve the ease and speed of working cattle, while reducing stress and increasing efficiency.

"Effective stockmanship occurs by creating movement in cattle and then through positioning to achieve the desired result," says Gill. "Without this approach, cattle are reluctant to work. That's when we resort to excessive pressure, force and driving aids that are less efficient."

Those five principles are based on the notion that cattle want to see and go around the handler, cattle want to be with and go toward other cattle, they want to return to where they have been and cattle can process only one main thought at a time.

Additionally, says Gill, while most livestock handlers receive on-the-job training in using sight, sound and touch to work with cattle, sight is the best method. In fact, Gill says human sound can distract the cattle's line of sight, and lead to the wrong outcome. Touch is useful in situations where animals are confined and additional means are necessary to get cattle moving. This would not include the use of driving aids such as hotshots or sorting sticks or paddles, he says.

"The job of a stockman is to teach an animal to accept and tolerate pressure and stress for short periods of time. Effective stockmanship skills are based on pressure and release. An animal will quickly learn to accept pressure and not develop stress if they perceive a way for pressure to be released," says Gill.

Gill's Western Farm Show Livestock Handling demonstration will provide attendees with 10 tips to improve the ease of handling, whether operators are gathering cattle from the pasture or processing them through the corrals. Each can be applied immediately and without a financial investment, he says. Among Gill's tips are to move in triangles when working cattle. Believe it or not, working in an arch pattern behind the cattle, handlers will find the cattle being drawn from side to side (and consequently walking in a zig-zag pattern). Gill advises that handlers move into the cattle's flight zone to create or correct movement and retreat from the flight zone to slow or stop movement.

One of Gill's more important tips is this: "Cattle work best when they are ready--you have to get them there," he says. Reminding handlers that cattle do not read minds, he says the focus should be on teaching, conditioning and preparing them for what the handler expects.

New to this year's Livestock Demonstration is the Chuteside presentation, which features a discussion about the process of handling cattle and vaccinations or treatments to cattle as they go through the squeeze chute.

Also new this year is the Farm Show's partnership with MFA Incorporated, which will assist with the setup, equipment and promotion of the Livestock Demonstration. MFA Representative Jon Roberts says the agricultural community can find out more about the demonstration through its 130-plus retail stores and that it will be an important element of the Farm Show.

"We're really going to spread the word because it's important to share these low-stress handling tips," says Roberts.

Gill works with associations such as NCBA, LMA and several key industry partners and helps conduct these trainings, which are known as "Stockmanship and Stewardship," around the country. The Western Farm Show learned of Gill's demonstrations through the Missouri Cattlemen's Association. In addition to conducting these trainings, he applies these techniques at his own commercial cattle enterprise in Texas.

Not only do such techniques improve the well-being of cattle and their handlers, says Gill, it reassures consumers and food marketers that the beef cattle industry is focused on quality and in the humane management of the cattle. According to Gill, this livestock handling program is appropriate for all cattle producers (beef and dairy), regardless of the herd size or age.

"Numerous others will handle your cattle after they have left your care. Bad habits and unruly behavior in cattle and humans is learned. Shouting, whistling, poking and prodding cattle is unnecessary and counterproductive," Gill says.



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