Working cattle safely and efficiently this spring

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Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State University Application of most economically important management practices to commercial cowcalf operations require up close interaction with the cattle. Several of these jobs are carried out during the upcoming months.

Before working both cows and calves, it is a “good thing” to “go over” the handling facilities to check for potential safety problems as well as reviewing the practices to be carried out. Handling facilities that are not in a good state of repair can create safety problems for both the cattle and producer.

Producers that are more likely to be injured are those that have been in the cattle business for several years and become careless and increase the possibility of becoming injured.

Following are some suggestions that should contribute to safe and more pleasant working conditions. Most cattle producers already are aware of these but, it will be good to review.

  • Don’t try to over power and “man handle” the animals. In most instances, the animals will outweigh and will be more powerful than the handler.
  • Become familiar with and observe the cattle’s characteristics over time and how they might react during the working process.
  • During the gathering and working process, cattle become stressed due to the change in environment. Some producers feed their cattle prior to working and move them into pens or holding areas to familiarize them with the environment.
  • Cattle can move quicker than most producers and as a consequence can injure both the handler and themselves. Be calm and work cattle at a comfortable rate for both cattle and handler. It is not a “timed event,”
  • Know the signs of stress and agitation in cattle. These include, bellowing, pawing, charging with their head down and attempting to flee.
  • Cows with young calves are protective, more defensive and more difficult to manage. This is where lots of producers get injured. Allow dam and calf to stay together as much as possible.
  • If extra labor is needed, be sure to secure those that are experienced. Do not assign jobs to the inexperienced hands where they might get injured. Inexperienced workers can become a hazard and get injured or injure the cattle.
  • Plan ahead for an escape and hope it is not needed.
  • Use common sense in working cattle.
  • Keep the dog away from the cattle. A dog is not a ‘symbol” of a cowboy. Cattle will conclude that a dog is a predator and will become aggressive toward it and increase the possibility of injury.

More cattle are worked during the spring of the year than any other season. Plan to keep it safe for both the producer and the cattle. About a couple of times per year there are one to two reports of producers being killed by cattle and several injured that required medical attention.

More Suggestions On Working Cattle

Cattle handling expert, Temple Grandin, offers the following tips when handling cattle:

  • Get rid of electric prods. Use plastic paddles or sticks with flags or plastic streamers attached to drive cattle. Cattle can see these very easily and can be effective to turn animals to “work through their flight zone.” The flight zone is the distance an animal will let the handler approach before turning to flee.
  • Move only a small bunch of cattle.
  • Fill the crowding pen only half full. This gives cattle enough room to move around and actually see the entrance to the chute. Avoid using the crowd gate.
  • There is a “natural leader” in the herd. Use that animal and the cattle’s herding instinct to follow each other. Do not refill the crowding pen until the single file chute is partly empty.  When there is space, the cattle will follow the leader into the chute. If the working chute is full, the cattle will simply mill around in the crowding pen.
  • Eliminate visual distractions and lighting problems in handling facilities. Shadows, water puddles, shiny reflections or objects hanging from a fence or chute will frighten the cattle. Lighting should diffuse and be shadow free.
  • Never drive cattle directly into the sun or a blinding light. Air blowing in the cattle’s face may also hinder movement. To detect problems that might limit cattle movement, walk through the facilities in a crouched position to get the animal’s perspective.
  • Poorly lighted working facilities can make handling cattle difficult. When cattle move from the “light” to a dark area, will cause cattle to balk and they become frightened.
  • Let the cattle walk from a dark area to a natural lighted area will make movement much easier.
  • Provide secure footing for the cattle. Slipping creates fear and struggling.
  • Block the cattle’s vision to areas outside the working facilities. They need to see the animals in front of them move forward. The crowding pen, the working chute and the squeeze chute should have solid sides.
  • Covering the sides of the squeeze chute will reduce the lunging at the head gate. Close and release the squeeze chute with a steady, calm movement. This will help to keep the animals calmer.
  • Reduce noise from yelling, whistling or “whip cracking.” Use rubber pads to silence or muzzle clanging noises on steel. Design hydraulic systems to operate quietly. Avoid the sound frequency in that the cattle have maximum sensitivity.
  • Do not isolate animals. It creates stress and risk of injury to both the handler and cattle.
  • Consider the handling process from the animal’s standpoint. Cattle do not get excited because they are aggressive and vicious. They do it because they are frightened.

These suggestions are “common sense” and should be seriously considered by the cow-calf producer when planning or working cattle. It makes the process safer and easier to carry out.


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