Stress-free cattle handling

Stress-free cattle handling

Low stress best way to handle cattle Strategically applied pressure Cow has one-track mind        

Recently I reviewed an article by Dr. Stephen Hammack, Professor & Extension Beef Cattle Specialist Emeritus, regarding cattle handling that highlighted some important points.  Safe and effective cattle handling has always been important; however, recently there has been a move to a system called low-stress handling.

Ever wonder why there is so much whooping and hollering when working cattle? There may be several reasons, but handling cattle effectively is not one of them. Cattle can be best handled with low-stress techniques relying on minimal use of strategically-applied pressure according to Dr. Hammack.  This method is based on the following principles:

  • Cattle want to see you.  Cattle can see everywhere but directly behind them or a small blind spot in front of them, so movement toward the blind spot behind them will cause cattle to turn their head to keep you in their line of sight.
  • Cattle want to go around you, so position yourself so that when they do go around you they are moving in the direction you had in mind for them.
  • Cattle want to be with and will go to other cattle.  You have heard the old saying, “safety in numbers,” and cattle know this, thus the herding instinct, so if you start the cattle in front of the herd, the rest will follow.
  • Cattle can think of only one thing at a time.  Yes, they have a one track mind, so if cattle are thinking about anything other than what you are asking them to do you will need to change their minds before putting pressure on them.


Work slowly

Based on these principles, Dr. Hammack suggests the following points apply:

  • The only way to work cattle quickly is slowly. If we get in a hurry, inevitably we will place too much pressure on cattle, which unusually results in an unintended reaction from cattle, and might mean starting all over with what we were planning to accomplish.
  • Work from the front to draw cattle to you as this helps keep cattle from wanting to turn back to keep you in their line of sight.
  • Apply pressure when cattle have a place to go.  Be sure to set the cattle up to go where you want them to go before you apply pressure.
  • Pressure from the side.  This relates back to working from the front and down the side of an animal, and not working directly behind the animal.
  • Cattle must be comfortable to go by you and stay straight. If cattle are not comfortable going by you, they will not work for you very well. Position yourself so that when cattle go where they want to go, it is exactly where you intended for them to be.
  • Pressure cattle from behind only when absolutely necessary. To drive cattle in a straight line, assume a position behind their shoulder and off to either side.
  • When working cattle, move in triangles. Yes it sounds odd, but it works, move in straight lines.
  • Going with the flow of cattle slows them down or stops their movement.
  • Going against the flow of cattle initiates or accelerates their movement.
  • Cattle work best when they are ready. You have to get them there.  That means you have to teach, condition and prepare them.  Quality time spent with replacement heifers will pay dividends for years to come.

Beef consumers remain interested in safety and wholesomeness, and today are more concerned with where and how their food was produced.   So as cattle producers we need to think smarter when working our cattle as the old days of “whoop and holler” cattle handling need to be gone.  Whistling at, poking and prodding cattle is unnecessary, counterproductive and will distract cattle from what you really want them to do.

These points are discussed in detail at:

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