This article was written by Megan Nielson, former 4-H Youth Livestock Field Specialist.
Quality assurance in livestock production focuses on raising safe, wholesome products for the consumer. The way producers interact and move their livestock has been shown to affect the quality of products from those animals. Livestock that are stressed have decreased production and adverse effects to meat quality during times of animal harvest. It is important to understand proper animal handling techniques to minimize stress and recognize animals’ flight zone when moving livestock.
Youth need to be careful working with new animals until the animals comfort or “flight zone” has been identified. The flight zone can be described as the area around an animal where they feel safe. This area or zone is different for each animal much like for us humans. For example, some people become uncomfortable if others talk to close to them or invade their personal space (or enter their flight zone). Other people may feel fine in a group and do not stress when people are close to them. An animals’ flight zone can also change with the environment they’re exposed to. Overtime, as the youth works with the animal the animal’s flight zone will decrease and the animal will become calmer to the situation. Introducing animals to new places will allow the animal to become use to being in a strange environment and help reduce their flight zone to new spaces. This is especially important to do when planning on exhibiting the animal at a public setting.
When working with new animals for the first time, slowly approach the animal in their line of sight, avoid entering the animals blind spot. Livestock animals have wide angle vision which allows them to see everything around them except directly behind them which is known as the blind spot. To effectively move animals through a lot or chute recognize how to position your body in relation to the animal. Never approach an animal by running up and yelling at them. If you are calm, the animal will see you as less of a threat and respond more successfully. The shoulder is recognized as the point of balance; this is a neutral zone of movement for the animal. To move an animal past you approach the animal from the side, behind the shoulder, and walk towards the tail of the animal. To make an animal back up, walk from the shoulder towards the head of the animal.
The more often a youth calmly interacts with their project animal the more willing the animal will be towards trusting the youth and a bond will form between the two. Understanding how to use these animal handling techniques will allow youth to interact more safely with the animal and provide a more positive experience for both the youth and the animal.