Low-stress cattle handling is easier for all animals and people involved, and leads to increased productivity, safety, and a healthier economic bottom line. When implemented correctly, low-stress cattle handling uses natural animal behavior instead of force to ask cattle or other livestock to move where you want them to go.

The only cost associated with low-stress cattle handling is the time required to learn the techniques. Experts throughout the world advocate for low-stress cattle handling. In fact, many ranchers use these techniques without realizing it.

On the contrary, check if you're currently doing these 5 Bad Cattle Handling Habits.

Terms such as point of balance, flight zone, and pressure zone are frequently used when discussing low-stress cattle handling. This guide offers a definition of each, and tips for implementing it on your cattle operation.

Man standing looking at cattle through panels

Low-Stress Cattle Handling Term 1: Point of Balance

The point of balance can be used in low-stress handling of cattle, sheep, and pigs. As cattle have wide-angle vision with a blind spot directly behind them, their point of balance is usually located at the shoulder.

When a handler stands behind the point of balance, the animal moves forward. Therefore, if you were to stand near the rib cage of an animal, they would move forward. If you were standing parallel to the neck of the animal they would move backward.

A common mistake in cattle working systems is for handlers to stand in front of the point of balance to move animals forward through the alley and into the chute. This is counterintuitive to cattle. If the handler backs up behind the point of balance, the animal continues moving forward.

Low-Stress Cattle Handling Term 2: Flight Zone

Flight zone is defined as the area around the animal that a human, or predator, can approach and have the animal move away. When approached in their flight zone, cattle turn to face you. Animals want to maintain their personal space, and will move away if you enter the flight zone.

The flight zone distance varies depending on the species of animal. For example, the flight zone on cattle is a shorter distance than the flight zone on deer. Fear and negative experiences increase the flight zone; hence, another reason low stress handling is beneficial.

Man using low-stress cattle handling techniques to guide cattle into alley

Low-Stress Cattle Handling Term 3: Pressure Zone

The pressure zone on cattle expands and contracts based on the location of the handler. It is the area just beyond the flight zone. To effectively move cattle with low stress handling principles, the handler works in the pressure zone and flight zone, applying enough pressure to move the animal, without causing them to become distressed, and progress into flight mode.

Cattle facing a handler head on have a larger pressure zone. When the handler moves to the side of the animal, the pressure zone is smaller, and the point of balance causes the animal to move forward or backward, depending on handler location.

Applying Low-Stress Cattle Handling Techniques

If you watch cattle move as a herd on their own, they always maintain eye contact. Animals follow the leader in a line, usually only a few cattle wide. Each animal is just behind the point of balance of the one in front of them. Stockmen and women can use these same principles when working large groups of cattle in an open field or large pen. By alternating between slowly entering and exiting the collective pressure and flight zone of the herd, two handlers can move cattle in a low-stress manner.

Cattle tend to move in the opposite direction of the handler. Moving cattle is more efficient if you walk in the direction opposite of where you want them to go. As you pass an animal’s point of balance, it moves forward. Moving towards the direction you want animals to go will only slow them down, along with the rest of your cattle operation.

In a pasture or large pen, the point of balance shifts forward on cattle, closer to the eye. Herd dynamics, and the size of the group will influence the point of balance on an animal. As you begin incorporating low stress techniques into your handling practices, you will notice the shift in different locations. The more time a handler spends implementing low stress handling techniques, the easier it becomes, further reducing stress on cattle.

Cattle Equipment Matters

Drone shot of cattle going through tub into cattle alley guided by handler from outside

Chutes and facilities are one area where changes can be implemented on an operation to incorporate low stress handling. Cattle want to see people, and will keep handlers in sight as they move through the tub, alley, and chute. When designing your system layout, consider creating a flow for cattle to move easily through the cattle working system. Cattle equipment used should be as quiet as possible and excess movement should be avoided in the system. Additionally, taking note of the capacity of your cattle working system prevents overcrowding from happening.

At Arrowquip, we use the principles of animal science and low-stress cattle handling to create safe and efficient systems. Features such as rubber floors and poly bushings decrease stress levels in cattle by minimizing noise. For added safety, Arrowquip products are designed for easy application of low-stress handling techniques to further reduce the need for using hot shots and other cattle prods.

Release of pressure is key to effectively using the point of balance and flight zone when handling cattle in a low-stress manner. Simply moving a few steps in a small area may work the cattle through a chute or gate.

Understanding and using animal behavior concepts helps us work cattle and lower stress levels for both humans and animals. With practice, you will be able to predict the behavior of your cattle when applying low-stress handling techniques.

References
Cattle Handling Pointers
Dr. Temple Grandin’s Website
Effective Stockmanship
Genetics and Behavior During Handling, Restraint and Herding
Low Stress Cattle Handling for Productivity and Safety
Low Stress Cattle Handling: The Basics
Recommended Basic Livestock Handling
Understanding the Flight Zone and Point of Balance