Low Stress for Safety and Success Workshop
The March 9th “Low Stress for Safety and Success” workshop near Beresford, SD was a full-day of presentations and hands-on activities. This workshop was hosted at the South Dakota Southeast Research Farm and The Opportunities Farm. “This workshop is the second of three producer workshops that was originally postponed from February 24th because of snow storms, so participants were thankful for fair weather and sunshine,” said Heidi Carroll, SDSU Extension Livestock Stewardship Associate. Heidi Carroll and her colleagues Julie Walker, SDSU Extension Beef Specialist, and Joe Darrington, SDSU Extension Livestock Environment Engineer, organized three workshops around South Dakota as part of this grant-funded program.
The day focused on learning cattle handling techniques, evaluating handling facilities, and understanding the impacts of handling on beef quality to ensure both human and cattle safety. Ten attendees representing cattlemen, nature conservancy personnel, and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff participated in the day’s events. Cattle behavior and human-cattle interactions were discussed in detail through presentations and video clips demonstrating cattle handling principles. The benefits of proper handling were also contrasted with the potential negative impacts that stressful handling can have on cattle and the resulting beef quality. An engaging presentation by Dr. Amanda Blair, SDSU Extension Meat Science Specialist, provided examples of the types of carcass discounts that can result from poor handling – and did the math on their economic impacts.
Participants toured the cattle handling facilities at the Southeast Research Farm that are currently being updated and the facilities at The Opportunities Farm. Additionally, several brands of portable chutes and corrals were on-hand thanks to local equipment dealer sponsors: Rural Manufacturing Company, Inc. and For-Most Livestock Equipment. An important part of working cattle safely is walking through facilities prior to bringing cattle through. A checklist of critical areas to inspect was utilized by participants to assess the safety and readiness of the facilities for both the cattle and the people. This checklist is one tool that cattlemen can use at home as they prepare to work cattle and consider improving their handling facilities.
Participants assisted with working newly received calves at The Opportunities Farm, which gave them hands-on experience to implement the techniques taught during the morning session. Eighty calves were vaccinated, implanted, tail switches trimmed, and drenched for parasite control. Matt Loewe, Opportunities Farm manager, prepared the group for the various tasks and discussed tips for keeping good calm cattle flow using the tub and alley facility. Everyone had the opportunity to use the cattle’s point of balance and flight zone to move calves through the pens, alleyways, and squeeze chute. Each person took a position and rotated to other positions if they desired to try different tasks. Additionally, several participants practiced emptying a pen of 80 cattle from an open lot into an alley to better understand the impacts of handler position and pressure.
The key to effective low-stress cattle handling is proper pressure at the right time. Low stress cattle handling does not mean slow. Handlers should remain alert to cattle’s comfort level with the people by reading their body language; this allows handlers to adjust their position and respond appropriately to minimize stress and maintain calm animal movement.
Several participants stated the most significant thing they learned was “how much handling effects meat quality, especially bruising;” “economic effects of poor cattle handling;” and the “causes of dark cutters, using pressure and release to move cattle” Another participant said the most significant thing they learned was the “technique on getting cattle to move, and keep flow going.” Other participants emphasized the importance of “low stress doesn’t mean slow - pressure and timing of release” and “the idea of watching where animals are paying attention.”
The “Low Stress for Safety & Success” workshop provided attendees with the opportunity to learn or brush up on cattle handling techniques, see multiple facilities, and most importantly implement low-stress techniques in a supportive environment with constructive feedback.
A huge THANK YOU to the generous sponsors for this workshop: Zoetis, For-Most Livestock Equipment, and Rural Manufacturing Company, Inc. And a big THANK YOU to the host farms: South Dakota Southeast Research Farm and The Opportunities Farm.
This workshop and its materials are based upon work supported by USDA-NIFA under Award Number 2015-49200-24226.