Low-stress animal handling was the topic of the day at the Tri-County Ag Day seminar, held June 8 at the South Dakota State University (SDSU) Cottonwood Research Station near Cottonwood, SD.
The featured speaker was Tom Noffsinger, DVM, of the Twin Forks Clinic in Benkelman, NE. His duties there include consulting with feedlots and cow-calf operations in the areas of health, performance and animal behavior.
Noffsinger began his presentation by explaining that good-doing cattle are a result of both good genetics and people who take care of them properly.
"Since cattle are prey animals," he said, "their instinct is to conceal weakness and illness from predators." Their entire behavior is relative to this, and if the handler is perceived as a predator, the animals will react accordingly.
On the other hand, proper and empathetic handling can actually instill a sense of trust in cattle.
"Cattle that trust their handlers will willingly exhibit symptoms," he added. This is especially important in a feedlot situation, when pen riders are looking for animals which need to be treated.
Three factors impact cattle movement: handler position and distance; handler angle; and handler speed. Noffsinger suggests:
• To slow down an animal, move parallel to it; to speed one up, move against it at a perpendicular angle.
• When the animal is doing what is asked of it, step back and release the pressure.
• Do not get behind cattle and chase them. This is a predatory move, and will cause cattle to move in circles. Cattle like to know what is pressuring them, and assume it is a predator.
"If you can't see the animals' eyes, you're not in the right position," Noffsinger cautioned.
Young calves can readily learn to trust their handlers as well. For example, if a calf needs to be tagged, lay it down gently and first rub it all over. Also handle its ears, and when it's been tagged it won't even be aware that anything has happened.
Noffsinger ended his presentation by answering questions from the audience. It is his hope that handlers will adopt his methods and dispense with hotshots, shouting, etc., that so often seem to accompany cattle work. The reward is calmer, better performing animals.
Following Noffsinger's address, attendees enjoyed a lunch of barbecue beef brisket sandwiches.
After lunch, the group traveled to the Pat and Mary Lou Guptill ranch near Quinn, SD to observe their animal handling methods.
The Guptills were preparing to turn 500 head of heifers out into an adjacent pasture, an activity done on a daily basis. All the heifers were in the corner of their own pasture, waiting. Guptill walked up the hill to the fenceline and began taking the wire down. He turned his back to the cattle as he went, and they filed in behind him into the fresh pasture.
When asked what the heifers would do if he was to turn and face them while removing the wire, Guptill responsed, "They would split at the moment I turned around and end up in two groups. I would have to do the whole process all over again with the second group."
Guptill has rotated pastures this way for about six years. He has had the current bunch of heifers for almost a month. He says it takes three to four days for them to get accustomed to the routine and to him.
Next the tour traveled to the Guptill Ranch working corrals. There they learned what a "Bud box" is and how it functions. The concept is a creation of Bud Williams, a world-reknowned expert in cattle handling. The "box" is a single pen which is actually the blind end of a drover's alley. It is generally about two feet wider than the alley and should not be filled more than half-full with cattle. After the animals enter the box, the gate from the alley is shut behind them. The handler should wait a short time as the cattle reach the back of the pen and begin to turn around. The cattle will look for the place where they came in and can be moved into an alleyway through a second gate inside the box. From there they can be run through a chute as necessary. This method has proven to be very efficient.
Back at the research station, participants were shown the working facilities there. Dr. Ken Olson, Extension SDSU Beef Specialist from the West River Ag Center in Rapid City, explained how their cattle tub functions. A tub is a semicircular structure that ideally should not have corners.
"Like the Bud box, it is used to temporarily hold cattle before moving them into an alleyway," Olson said. Again, never fill the tub more than half full.
The alleyway at the research station is curved rather than straight, and opinions differ as to the desirability of each. The important thing to consider when designing working pens is to be sure that it fits your particular situation.
Attendees were able to take time to visit the trade show, which had been set up that morning. An ag appreciation banquet wrapped up the day's activities.
Tri-County Ag Day was hosted by SDSU Extension Service and the communities of Kadoka, Philip and Wall. Sponsors for the event include the South Dakota Grassland Coalition, Philip Livestock Auction, Pennington/Jackson County Farm Bureau, Grossenburg Implement, Dakota Radio Group, Hubbard Feeds, Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Farm Credit Services, Golden Vet Services, Kennedy Implement, Tri-State Livestock News/Farmer Rancher Exchange, Golden West Telecommunications, CHS Midwest Cooperatives, Cattle Business Weekly, Kadoka Community Betterment Association, SDSU Extension, Certified Angus Beef, KBHB Radio, Alltech, and the First National Bank and Agency of Philip.