Proper Animal Handling Practices

Marissa Brown, Suwannee County Extension Service

Handling animals is something that many people do not spend much time thinking about. Some of the techniques, or lack of, that cattlemen use causes stress to the animals and are used all too excessively. Techniques such as cattle prods, tail cranking, and many more equally distressing ones, are not completely necessary when the behavior of animals is understood. Another thing to think about when moving animals through chutes is facility design. Cattlemen should take advantage of an animal’s natural instincts when designing chutes and crowd pens.

 One of the first concepts cattlemen should understand is that of flight zone and point of balance. The flight zone of an animal is a radius around the animal in which it feels safe. If a handler enters this radius the animal will turn away. If the handler is outside this radius, the animal will turn and face him. The point of balance is the animal’s shoulder. If a handler is forward of this point the animal will move back. If the handler is behind this point the animal will move forward. Keeping these concepts in mind will make moving animals easier, especially in the cutes.   

When moving cattle through chutes, electric prods should be replaced as much as possible with alternative driving aids such as flags, plastic paddles, and a stick with plastic ribbons attached to it. An electric prod should NOT be a person's primary driving tool. It should only be picked up and used when absolutely required to move a stubborn animal and then put back down. People should NOT be constantly carrying electric prods. A reasonable attainable goal for minimum electric prod use is 1 to 5% of the cattle at a squeeze chute and 0% when groups are moved.

 If cattle will not move through the chutes very easily, there may be a reason other than the animals just being stubborn. There are many common distractions that impede the movement of cattle in the chute. Cattlemen may want to inspect their handling facilities for some of the following distractions:

  • Sparkling reflections on puddles
  • Reflections on smooth metal
  • Chains that jiggle
  • Metal clanging or banging
  • High pitched noise
  • Air hissing - should be silenced with mufflers or piped outside
  • Air drafts blowing towards approaching animals
  • Clothing hung on the fence
  • Piece of plastic that is moving
  • Fan blade movement
  • Seeing people moving up ahead
  • Small object on the floor - such as a coffee cup
  • Changes in flooring and texture
  • Drain grate on the floor
  • Sudden changes in the color of equipment-colors with high contrast are the worst
  • Bright light such as blinding sun-animals will move from a darker place to a brighter place, but they will not move toward blinding light.
  • Animals may balk at one-way and back up gates-install them two to three body lengths away from the crowd pen.

 Design of cattle facilities can have an impact on the ease of animal movement. Curved chutes and round crowd pens work much better than straight ones. The curvature takes advantage of the natural circling behavior of animals; that is, the tendency to go back to where they came from. It also takes advantage of the limited vision of the end of the chute. Animals cannot see people and other moving objects at the end and are more inclined to move forward. Be sure, however, that crowd pens are level and animals can see at least two to three body lengths in front of them.

Source: Dr. Temple Grandin, Colorado State University