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Is Low-Stress Cattle Handling Effective?

Happy Cows

Every day we become more aware of the impact emotional stress has on our physical health. Does the same hold true for cattle? There’s evidence to suggest that cows are profoundly affected by the stress of the environment they’re raised in, and this stress can impact growth and have other physical consequences.

As a result, adopting low-stress cattle handling techniques is not only the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint, but it can also have economic benefits. Here’s what you need to know about low-stress cattle handling.

Why Does Low-Stress Cattle Handling Matter?

There are various benefits to adopting low-stress cattle handling techniques. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the conditions livestock are raised in. And a growing market for ethically raised meat makes it possible to command a higher price for cattle that has been treated better. Furthermore, research has demonstrated that animal stress can have a serious impact on productivity. Cattle raised in a stress-free environment gain weight faster, produce more milk, and are less prone to injury and disease.

Keeping your cattle stress-free can also lower the risk of injury and reduce your liability. Stressed-out bulls will be more prone to aggression and erratic behavior, which can lead to expensive, avoidable accidents on the job.

Understanding Cattle Temperament and Behavior

Many of us who make our living raising cattle don’t always make the effort to understand how a cow’s natural instincts impact its behavior. Cows have sensitive hearing and poor depth perception. As a result, they are easily startled and slow to adapt to new environments. One of the keys to reducing stress in cattle is to keep these distractions to a minimum. Be calm and reassuring when moving your herd. Studies suggest yelling and loud whistling can cause as much distress to cows as using an electric prod.

It’s also important to remove visual stimuli that can distract or startle a cow. Dangling ropes or chains, aggressive lighting, and sudden floor changes can all cause stress and aggravation. Remember, cows need to be eased gently into new environments. Initiate movement gently and don’t try to force the animal into a confined space.

Key Concepts: Flight Zone and Point of Balance

A cow’s flight zone is essentially its personal space. If you intrude on this personal space, the animal will become stressed and run away. The closer you move into the flight zone, the more agitated the cow will become. With proper conditioning, it’s possible to shrink the size of the flight zone, which makes cattle easier to herd without stress.

Related to the flight zone is the point of balance, located at the animal’s shoulder/chest area. If you approach from behind this point, the animal will react by moving forward. Approaching from ahead causes the cow to retreat. One key to stress-free handling is to be aware of how a cow will react in these situations, and plan accordingly.

Cattle Squeeze Chutes and Low-Stress Facilities

Squeeze chutes and other handling systems can contribute to an animal’s stress, or ease it. Well-designed equipment will take into account both the physiological and psychological factors that induce anxiety in cattle.

Arrowquip has a long history of designing innovative, low-stress handling equipment for ranchers throughout the country. To learn more about our products, contact an Arrowquip representative or contact a dealer in your area.

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