The ultimate goal of stockmen is to produce a safe, wholesome product to sell for a profit. To achieve this goal, stockmen must provide adequate nutrition, a safe environment for the animals to live, a planned health program and properly designed handling facilities to administer the health program for the safety of the livestock and the stockman. All of these elements require the movement of the animals. Stockmanship is the term we use to define the action of moving animals from one point to another. Low stress stockmanship is a new term being used for a common sense approach that has always had success. Success defined here means
5 safety and welfare of the animals and humans that care for them. The secret to low stress livestock handling is understanding innate animal behavior – why they react the way they do – and then using that knowledge to ask, not force, them to comply with the handler. One problem of improper livestock handling is bruising. Bruising is caused by a physical blow and the escape of blood from damaged blood vessels into the surrounding muscle tissue. Bruising can happen at any time during handling or transportation and can vary greatly in size. It is, therefore, clear that to obtain a high meat quality, it is necessary for animals to be stress and injury free during handling and transportation up to and during slaughter.
Stressed animals also incur a higher level of sickness. A stressed animal has a lowered immune system, leaving the animal highly susceptible to disease. The cost of pharmaceuticals used on livestock to combat stressrelated effects can have a drastic effect on a producer's already narrow profit margins. The major contributing factors to this stress are handling and transportation.
These huge financial losses are one of the main reasons that low stress livestock handling is becoming increasingly popular in the animal industry today. But yet another reason, financial profit aside, is that low stress handling is safer, not only for the animal, but for the handler. Animal handlers are often injured or even killed when frightened, agitated animals run over them. The expense of paying hospital bills and workmen's compensation claims or of replacing employees costs the meat industry thousands of dollars every year.
A common misconception is that "low stress" must mean "no pressure." That is absolutely false. Cattle, horses, sheep, goats and swine all respond to appropriate application and release of pressure. There are times when significant pressure must be applied to get the animals to move how and when you need. Pressure, used appropriately, does not cause longterm, harmful stress. The correct handling of cattle is a vital component of quality food production and good animal welfare. Handling cannot improve the basic product, but good handling will minimize product quality loss and lessen stress on animals.
The use of sorting sticks can extend the distance of control over livestock as it effectively increases the length of the stockman's arm. Holding a sorting stick in front of an animal's head will cause it to either stop or turn. Hitting an animal, though, is unnecessary and ineffective in moving animals in the desired direction. Poking an animal that is already moving in the correct direction is also unnecessary and dangerous, as this can cause cattle and horses to kick and sheep and goats to panic and jump.
Electric prods, however, are a useful aid if used correctly. A prod should not be used on an animal that has nowhere to go or is already moving in the correct direction, such as animals at the back of the herd.
Attributes of a Good Stockman
Good stockmen should be:
- Observant - They will notice slight differences in animal behavior or appearance, such as in one animal away from the rest of the herd or body posturing that suggests an illness or injury.
- Confident - They will always react with firm, sure movements and will always be "the boss" while avoiding getting overexcited.
- Competent - They will have the ability to control animals and know where to stand in a corral in relation to the animals being moved and understand animal behavior principles.
- Patient - They will always give the animals time to assess the situation before expecting a reaction.
- Positive in attitude towards the care of the animals - They will also develop a good relationship with the stock and avoid unnecessary force and yelling.
- Respectful - They will respect each animal's ability for speed and power to do injury.
Source: Steven M. Jones, Associate Professor
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Pate, Curt. Low-Stress Livestock Handling Techniques. NCBA Video sponsored by Priefert, Inc.
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