Cattle Care: Low-stress handling ideal

Aug 26, 2011
by WLJ

As summer temperatures soar, reducing livestock stress is of the upmost importance.

Summer heat places plenty of stress on cattle and other livestock. To minimize the risk of injury and illness, low-stress handling methods are recommended “Anytime we put any kind of stress on an animal, whether it be physical stress, nutritional stress or a psychological stress, any time we stress those animals, we begin to open the door where they could potentially stress the system and they could be overcome by some sort of infection or something,” said Jason Cleere, Texas AgriLife Extension Service beef cattle specialist.

Low-stress handling of livestock not only promotes their health and safety, but that of the rancher as well.

“Anytime we can minimize those stresses, we are less likely to have disease problems within the herd,” Cleere said. “But then also, the cow performs better in the long run, too. On top of that, from a low-stress handling method point of view, handling those cows in a relative low-stress manner also helps prevent accidents as well, not only to the cow, but to the human as well.”

Regardless of the time of day cattle are worked, high temperatures should be kept in mind.

“From a temperature standpoint here in Texas, we don’t have the luxury, especially in the eastern portion of the state it is typically hot and humid most of the summers, so we don’t get necessarily the nighttime cooling affect for those cooler mornings,” Cleere explained. “So, even if we started working at daybreak, whether we were getting ready to sell calves or whatever we are doing with those cows, it can still be pretty hot and humid for those cattle.”

Temperatures are, of course, cooler in the early morning hours, but as early as 9 a.m. on some days, parts of Texas have seen temperatures in the 90s.

“The big thing this time of year is to process those cattle early, early in the morning,” Cleere said. “That is going to reduce stress on both the cows and the calves, and if you are working those cattle with horses, it is less stress for them and your hands as well.”

Low-stress handling methods can be utilized by any size operation. It doesn’t take any special tools or training, rather just an understanding of cow herd mentality and their natural instincts.

“Low-stress handling is just a slower paced way of handling them,” Cleere explained. “Then, instead of trying to force the cattle to do things, you kind of utilize their natural instincts to make them go into the places that you want them to go. By doing that, there is less stress on those cattle and less running—creating a low-stress factor.”

Cattle are by no means predators, therefore, their fight-or-flight response is fairly easy to predict. Cattle have pressure points that can be used to move them ea easily in the desired direction.

“It is just doing things slower and utilizing cow psychology and pressure points and the natural cat- tle her herding instincts,” Cleere said. “From a cattle perspective, every cow, eve- ry calf, has a certain amount of pressure that you can put on them before they are going to run away. So when you get into a set of cows, you have to understand how much pressure you can put on those cattle.

“If you put too much pressure on them too quickly, they are going to have the flight reaction,” he continued. “So, having the ability to understand the distance there, and being able to slowly put pressure on those cattle, instead of rapidly, is the first step.”

Another point Cleere emphasized was understanding the cattle’s point of balance and where a person should position themselves to get the desired response.

“One of the more common things is people try to get right behind cattle and try to move them somewhere,” he said. “Well, that is a blind spot for them, so you have to move to the side and figure out those pressure points. As you move to the front portion, the first half of their body, they will tend to go backwards. If you move behind that into the second portion of their body, they will tend to move forward.”

According to an Extension document, Cattle Handling Pointers, “The most important point to remember about the flight zone is not the flight zone, it is the area before the flight zone where a stockman must get skilled at managing. When approaching an animal, it is important to be able to predict the response to your entering the flight zone. If the desired movement is not going to occur, you need to back out, reposition and approach at a different angle.”

Utilizing these low-stress handling methods can be beneficial to the cattle’s welfare, performance and quality of life. Visit for more tips on low-stress handling methods and how to utilize them.