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Cattle handling techniques with less stress offered at cow/calf day

By Carol Stender

Date Modified: 03/12/2013 3:09 PM

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MORRIS, Minn. —After she suffered a foot injury when moving cattle, Bethany Funnell looked for a better way to work her herd.

She found it by changing her perspective and handling facilities.

The methods she uses, developed by Bud Williams, result in less stress for both animals and handlers, she said at the Beef Cow/Calf Days in Morris.

"Happy cows are productive cows," said the North Central Research and Outreach Center Beef Team member. "With less stress and by meeting their needs, you get higher milk production, better reproduction and better growth."

Williams, who died last year, spent a lifetime teaching his techniques. He developed them on is family's farm, where he and a brother would tend to the livestock. Williams and his family watched the animals' movements and learned how to approach and walk beside them.

"Over time, we have developed crutches," Funnell said. "We have facilities that try to save us time by having cattle do what we want them to do ... if the cattle are considered the end user, and not the humans, the design will be simple and be easy to use, as well," she said.

It's difficult to teach proper cattle handling in a classroom, she said. The best way to learn proper handling methods is by learning basic principles and watching livestock responses.

"They will tell you where you need to be," she said.

Cattle have close to 360-degree vision, she said. They have a small blind spot directly in front of them and a larger blind spot behind them. To tell where the cow is looking, look at their ears. If the cow is looking straight ahead, her ears will be pointed forward. If she is looking behind her, the ears are pointed back. If there is something of interest in her rear blind spot, she will turn her head or both her head and body to look with her ears pointed forward.

The animals like to move in the direction they face. If the handler pressures an animal from the side, the animal will move in the direction it is facing, not necessarily the direction it's looking.

Cattle are herding animals and like to play follow the leader. When one cow moves forward, others will follow.

The cattle are also prey animals and don't respond well to circling. It's human nature to want to curve around animals as handlers try to establish movement in a pen or pasture. That is predatory behavior, and cattle will sense stress. Cattle respond better if the handler walks in straight lines, moving closer to the cattle with each pass. Some chutes allow for only one animal to enter the area at a time. But a longer chute allows for animals to follow that natural instinct to go with a leader.

More information and videos detailing the handling techniques are on the Bud Williams site, and on Melissa Arhart's website,