October 27th started early with beautiful fall temperatures above average for this time of year. The 27 participants in the “Low Stress for Safety and Success” workshop began gathering at the SDSU Cottonwood Range and Livestock Field Station near Philip, SD for a full day of learning. Both cattlemen and FFA youth participants were eager to learn low-stress cattle handling techniques and discuss facility design, and most importantly they were eager to put the knowledge into action.
Cattle Behavior & Low-Stress Handling
The workshop started by discussing cattle behavior and low-stress handling techniques. “Gaining an understanding of cattle’s perception of their environment and how a handler’s body language impacts their behavior is the foundation of low-stress handling,” says Heidi Carroll, SDSU Extension Livestock Stewardship Associate. Additionally, participants learned how poor handling can negatively impact cattle health, performance, and profit the producer receives. Every person that interacts with cattle, from birth to harvest, has the opportunity to positively impact the animal’s behavior and minimize the amount of stress it experiences during handling, ultimately raising the best quality beef possible.
Facilities & Equipment
The day continued with participants walking through cattle handling facilities and learning how to objectively evaluate the equipment in preparation for working cattle. “Facility evaluation is a skill that can help producers improve animal flow-ability, limit costly facility breakdowns, and promote low stress interactions for both cattle and handlers,” explained Joe Darrington, SDSU Extension Livestock Environment Associate. In addition to the permanent facilities at the Field Station, several brands of portable chutes and alleys were available thanks to local equipment dealer sponsors: Cammack Ranch Supply and Lakeside Livestock Equipment Sales.
Participants also had the opportunity to work calves and cows through the facilities and a portable wheel corral. During the hands-on cattle activities, everyone had the opportunity to implement the techniques of using the point of balance and flight zone. Activities included: emptying cattle from feedlot pens, moving through alleys, using a tub and hydraulic chute, and gathering calves from a small pasture. A bonus activity was learning how to place a CIDR (controlled internal drug release) in a cow for estrous synchronization.
Standard Operating Procedures Discussion
The day wrapped-up with a discussion about writing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for cattle management tasks. Many ranchers don’t believe that having written SOPs for the tasks they perform is beneficial; however, SOPs provide a set of directions for tasks to be done safely and consistently by all employees. An example SOP for low-stress handling was provided to participants along with other resources for creating SOPs on their own ranches. “SOPs aren’t just paperwork, they are valuable documents that assist with training ranch employees or fill-in workers, communicate expectations of the quality of each task, and reduce the risk of injuries or failed procedures,” says Carroll.
One participant took home “the techniques on how to maintain a safe environment and handle cattle.” Another participant said the most significant thing they learned was to “take time to read your herd and prepare before engaging in your task at hand – communication to all working with you on any given day or task being performed.” Several other participants commented about learning “more refined cattle handling techniques” and the importance of “the use of momentum when handling cattle.”
The “Low Stress for Safety & Success” workshop provided participants with the opportunity to learn cattle handling techniques, see multiple facilities and equipment, and most importantly try implementing low-stress techniques in a supportive environment with constructive feedback.
For those that missed out on this workshop, there are a couple more opportunities to participate.
- February 24, 2017 at the SDSU Southeast Research Station near Beresford, SD
- Spring 2017 near Mission, SD