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Livestock laborers

Photo by Bill BrewsterDavid Dryer talks to participants about low stress techniques during the recent training session at Headwaters Livestock.

For more than a year, Ed Fryer and his son, Dave, have been crossing the state to provide producers with some tried-and-true suggestions on handling livestock in ways that mesh with today’s rapidly changing agricultural landscape.

Even in Montana ­­- far from urban centers – increased attention from animal welfare advocates has put the spotlight on more humane livestock handling procedures on ranches and feedyards.

The focus on low-stress handling comes at a time when many upscale restaurants are promoting beef as being humanely handled as part of their marketing strategy.



“We do have a responsibility to handle our cattle ethically,” says Ed Fryer.

Fryer, a veteran cattleman and manager of the famous Castle Mountain Ranch in White Sulphur Springs, MT, provides suggestions stemming from his years of experience working with thousands of cattle and ranch crews at the Twilight Training sessions sponsored by Montana State University’s Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program.



Recently he told a large crowd of producers gathered at Headwaters Livestock that cattle handling principles are not a new problem but has been brought to the forefront by a couple of factors.

“Now there are less people on the ranches and we are finding ourselves overworked and there is less time in our schedules to do the work,” he says. “At the same time we have outside people looking at our industry and they are concerned about some of the things we are doing.”

Fryer says problems with handling cattle occur when ranchers start handling cattle in close quarters.

“When we start dealing with these animals on a one-to-one basis, that is where stressful situations can arise,” he says.

The key to handling cattle effectively is to “understand a cow’s mind and how they act,” Fryer explains. “I’ve spent my entire life doing this work. In the process, I have seen new ranches, new country, new cattle and new employees.”

These ongoing experiences result in constant challenges that need to be dealt with on an ongoing basis.

“When I started, they had almost no fences, no facilities and notoriously bad horses yet the boss had high expectations and wanted to get the job done,” Fryer says.

One key point, he stresses, is to just slow down and let things happen.

“An old timer once told me that there is no use in having a horse that walks faster than a cow. His reason was that if he had a horse that walked faster he would have to pull on him too much,” Fryer says.

“Correct livestock handling needs to be done slower,” he states. “Take it one step at a time and do it right and the cattle will get better to handle in time.”

At Castle Mountain the job can be done in a fraction of the time with less people handling cattle the right way.

Fryer said that cattlemen need to use their powers of observation and take advantage of those opportunities or create them when possible.

“The fastest way to confuse a cow is to back up. Then they stop and look at you and you have a chance to do something,” he adds. “Cattle are pretty trainable. Take it one step at a time and do it right and the cattle will get better to handle in time. David and I have a good time with cattle. We can usually talk them into doing what we want to do.”

Fryer pointed out that working cattle shouldn’t be difficult. “If you keep having big fights, you are doing something wrong. People sometimes get used to things and don’t realize that things can be changed to make them easier. If it’s difficult every time, you better look at the people and the facilities,” he says.

Fryer said working cattle in the alley and chute isn’t a speed thing – yet efficiency is important.

At Castle Mountain with 1,500 mother cows and another 1,500 yearlings, he said four to five people can process cattle through the chutes, give shots and administer pour-on.

“About 125-150 head an hour is our typical speed and no one is hurrying. There isn’t a lot of moving around and not a lot of hollering,” Fryer says.

For more than a year, Ed Fryer and his son, Dave, have been crossing the state to provide producers with some tried-and-true suggestions on handling livestock in ways that mesh with today’s rapidly changing agricultural landscape.

Even in Montana ­­- far from urban centers – increased attention from animal welfare advocates has put the spotlight on more humane livestock handling procedures on ranches and feedyards.

The focus on low-stress handling comes at a time when many upscale restaurants are promoting beef as being humanely handled as part of their marketing strategy.

“We do have a responsibility to handle our cattle ethically,” says Ed Fryer.

Fryer, a veteran cattleman and manager of the famous Castle Mountain Ranch in White Sulphur Springs, MT, provides suggestions stemming from his years of experience working with thousands of cattle and ranch crews at the Twilight Training sessions sponsored by Montana State University’s Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program.

Recently he told a large crowd of producers gathered at Headwaters Livestock that cattle handling principles are not a new problem but has been brought to the forefront by a couple of factors.

“Now there are less people on the ranches and we are finding ourselves overworked and there is less time in our schedules to do the work,” he says. “At the same time we have outside people looking at our industry and they are concerned about some of the things we are doing.”

Fryer says problems with handling cattle occur when ranchers start handling cattle in close quarters.

“When we start dealing with these animals on a one-to-one basis, that is where stressful situations can arise,” he says.

The key to handling cattle effectively is to “understand a cow’s mind and how they act,” Fryer explains. “I’ve spent my entire life doing this work. In the process, I have seen new ranches, new country, new cattle and new employees.”

These ongoing experiences result in constant challenges that need to be dealt with on an ongoing basis.

“When I started, they had almost no fences, no facilities and notoriously bad horses yet the boss had high expectations and wanted to get the job done,” Fryer says.

One key point, he stresses, is to just slow down and let things happen.

“An old timer once told me that there is no use in having a horse that walks faster than a cow. His reason was that if he had a horse that walked faster he would have to pull on him too much,” Fryer says.

“Correct livestock handling needs to be done slower,” he states. “Take it one step at a time and do it right and the cattle will get better to handle in time.”

At Castle Mountain the job can be done in a fraction of the time with less people handling cattle the right way.

Fryer said that cattlemen need to use their powers of observation and take advantage of those opportunities or create them when possible.

“The fastest way to confuse a cow is to back up. Then they stop and look at you and you have a chance to do something,” he adds. “Cattle are pretty trainable. Take it one step at a time and do it right and the cattle will get better to handle in time. David and I have a good time with cattle. We can usually talk them into doing what we want to do.”

Fryer pointed out that working cattle shouldn’t be difficult. “If you keep having big fights, you are doing something wrong. People sometimes get used to things and don’t realize that things can be changed to make them easier. If it’s difficult every time, you better look at the people and the facilities,” he says.

Fryer said working cattle in the alley and chute isn’t a speed thing – yet efficiency is important.

At Castle Mountain with 1,500 mother cows and another 1,500 yearlings, he said four to five people can process cattle through the chutes, give shots and administer pour-on.

“About 125-150 head an hour is our typical speed and no one is hurrying. There isn’t a lot of moving around and not a lot of hollering,” Fryer says.


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