OSU Ag Communications Todd Johns Stockmanship is an under-appreciated and under-utilized component of operating sustainable livestock operations and just one essential component is low-stress livestock handling (LSLH). We need to ask why. Why is LSLH something that stockmen should take seriously? What evidence is there to persuade us that it is worth adopting?
The purpose of this column is to make the case for LSLH. I will argue briefly that it accrues benefits over conventional livestock handling in several categories, including performance, efficiency, safety, animal welfare and quality of life.
Numerous scientific studies have illustrated that indices of animal performance (e.g., weight gain, conception rates, milk yield, immune function and carcass quality) are positively correlated with good handling practices and negatively correlated with coercive handling practices. A few representative studies are presented briefly below.
- An experiment with 144 backgrounded steers indicated that poor handling negatively impacted liveweight gain (Petherick, et al. 2009).
- A study in Hawaii found that lightly stressed heifers lost 4 percent of their live weight, and moderately stressed heifers lost 6 percent as compared to unstressed controls. Also, when weighed 44 days later the controls gained an average of 25 pounds, the lightly stressed 20 pounds, and the moderately stressed only 16 pounds (Smith, 1998).
- Stress and the resulting hormonal responses can disrupt ovulation and the preovulatory luteinizing hormone surge which reduces conception rates in dairy cows (Stoebel and Moberg, 1982).
- Intensive negative human-animal interaction resulted in a 19 percent lower viability rate of embryos in a superovulation program experiment involving 32 cows (Macedo, et al. 2011).
- A study of dairies in England determined that stockmen had a dramatic effect on milk yields. Of two dairies that changed stockmen during the six-year study period, one increased milk yields by 21.5 percent while the other decreased milk yields by 33.6 percent (Seabrook, 1984).
- An Idaho dairy increased milk production by 4,000 pounds per day by adopting low-stress handling techniques (Smith, 1998).
- Stress has a significant impact on the incidence and severity of respiratory infections (Hodgson, et al. 2005).
- Vee Tee Feeders, an 8,000-head feedlot, historically doctored approximately 75 calves per day in October. After adopting low-stress livestock handling methods they doctored three to five per day. (Ritchi Davies, owner, Vee Tee Feeders, Inc., personal communication)