Low-stress cattle handling techniques
Working cattle doesn’t have to be hard work, according to Melissa Arhart, of Arhart Feedlot Technologies in Alpena, SD. In addition to her work as a low-stress cattle handling consultant, Melissa works alongside her husband, Andrew, in their feedlot and cow-calf operation, and off-operation in their feedlot marketing and ultrasounding business. The Arharts learned these handling practices from Bud Williams and Tom Noffsinger, DVM, who have worked in some of the biggest feedlots in the U.S. and Canada and now teach cattle handling worldwide.
In an effort to offer a more widely available course, Arhart offers DVDs of her cattle handling experiences, and she presented her first speech on the topic at the 2010 South Dakota State Fair in Huron, SD. Her methods require no hollering, arm waving, paddles or hot shots. A horse and a four-wheeler are optional, as well. All a cattle producer needs is the patience to work cattle using a pressure-and-release method, a low-stress, low-labor method to moving and sorting cattle that producers can really enjoy.
“Stockmanship is the art or skill of working with livestock and the level of skill used,” explained Arhart, in her presentation at the fair. “What I learned from both Williams and Noffsinger is that little changes in our techniques can make a huge difference when working cattle.”
Arhart said that most presenters tell producers that the problem often lies in the cowherd’s disposition or the quality of the facilities; however, most folks never consider that the problem might be the way people work around the cattle.
“The basic step of learning low-stress handling is applying pressure and release,” said Arhart, as she showed a variety of clips to demonstrate her points. “Cattle are always reading our intent and looking for opportunities. We can use their instincts to our advantage in order to get them to cooperate with us.”
She talked through how using the pressure and release system works.
“Once the cattle are drawn to the person, they are often easier to bring to a new pen or work into a group,” she explained. “Instead of wandering through the pens looking for sick calves, we can practice using pressure and release again. Don’t meander through the pen; move with a purpose. The cattle will get used to you moving in and stepping back. It only takes a day for them to understand that when you move, they should too.”
Arhart emphasized the importance of backing up away from the cattle in order to change their mindset.
“This technique can even be applied to weigh and tag calves,” said Arhart. “It keeps the calf calm and helps the cow find a comfortable spot to wait while you work with her calf. It’s important to wait for a response using pressure and then back up.”
When working a large group, she said producers should start far out and push the middle to get movement.
“It’s natural to want to be really close to the herd, but you can be pretty far away when using the pressure and release system,” explained Arhart. “Think in terms of a ‘T’ shape, with the gate being the top of the T and the bottom being the back and forth movements you make towards the cattle.”
Another tip she offered was to wait for the cows to pair up before moving a herd.
“So often we get into the pasture and the cows think they are going somewhere, so they immediately start moving,” said Arhart. “If we give them time to pair up, they aren’t running away while hunting for their calves. Sometimes with really tame cattle, they don’t respond as much as others. Less tame cattle really respond to the pressure and release.”
Arhart said by taking steps forward and stepping back when engaging cattle isn’t the only thing to do. In addition to the pressure and release system and the T shape movements, she recommended that producers walk against the cattle and attract their eye to get them to move in the right direction.
“We have always been taught to be behind cattle when moving them, but we can’t be afraid to be on the side and walking against them,” she said. “You really don’t have to worry about the back ones because their natural instinct is to follow the leader.”
To close her presentation, Arhart encouraged others to try these techniques in order to adopt practices that are easy on the cattle, as well as the handlers.
“There is a great deal of pride in having these stockmanship skills,” said Arhart. “Because of these techniques, it’s now really enjoyable to work calves.”
editor’s note: for more information on low-stress cattle handling, melissa arhart is available for consultation. contact her at 605-350-1344 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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