Based on results of the 2011 National Beef Quality Audit (NBQA), a large majority of U.S. producers – 93 percent of them – believe they use good stockmanship practices. Montana rancher, writer and stockmanship advocate Whit Hibbard, however, believes that data point could protect the status-quo, and divert attention from an opportunity for many producers to benefit by adopting true low-stress practices.
Hibbard publishes Stockmanship Journal, an online, subscription-based publication devoted to animal-husbandry and stockmanship practices. In the latest issue, he questions that NBQA result in an article titled “The 2011 National Beef Quality Audit: A Critique.” Hibbard maintains the survey methodology produced misleading results, particularly with regard to stockmanship. The survey, he says, simply asked producers “In what ways do you intentionally influence quality as a beef producer?”, then provided a list of 10 possible choices and instructed respondents to mark all that apply. One choice was “Use of good stockmanship and animal handling skills.” As mentioned earlier, just under 93 percent of respondents checked that box.
Hibbard believes respondents answered the question based on their own definitions of “good” stockmanship and animal handling, and their personal biases regarding the practices they use and probably always have used. Based on his experiences, Hibbard says the percentage of ranchers using what he considers good stockmanship and animal-handling, meaning specific low-stress methods similar to those taught by the late stockmanship expert Bud Williams, is much lower.
One of the objectives of the NBQA is to use the results in designing and implementing BQA training programs, essentially to identify areas of weakness and target BQA training to address those weaknesses. Hibbard expresses concern that the NBQA response on the stockmanship issue provides the industry with a false sense of security. BQA planners, he believes, could place stockmanship and animal handling at the bottom of their priority list based on the 93 percent figure.
In a follow-up to his critique, Hibbard offers his proposal for a “Basic Skill Set for Low-Stress Livestock Handling Teachers.” His proposal lists 22 specific skills, from approaching, driving, stopping, settling, placing, gathering, sorting, weaning and working cattle, loading scales, working corrals, crowd pens, and tubs, “Bud Boxes,” squeeze chutes, receiving, loading out, pen riding, de-stressing and understanding flight zones and pressure zones. Each skill set includes a list of bullet points defining the handler’s ability.