Any effort that is good for your cattle is good for cattle productivity, so reducing handling stress for your cattle herd is a win-win. Cattle originated as prey animals, and that makes them prone to stress during handling due to a reflex built in to their DNA to help them to escape predators. While you can breed a calmer, more temperamental animal, you cannot completely take away such a reflex. You can, however, take steps to reduce the stress of simple handling.
Benefits of Reducing Stress for Cattle Productivity
Stress in cattle causes a host of bad side effects: elevated heart rate, increased body temperature, elevated hormones and a reduced immune system. None of those effects are good for productivity, making the biggest benefit of reduced stress being a healthy, contented animal that gains weight, has a high reproduction performance and gets sick less often.
Further benefits include the reduction in both the danger of injury to those working with the animals and the higher possibility of damage to equipment, facilities and the animal itself. Essentially, you’ll get higher cattle productivity due to happier animals, plus less injury and equipment damage.
Tips for Reducing Stress
While you can’t control everything your herd has to go through—castration, dehorning, immunizations, etc.—you can control some things. Tips for reducing herd stress from UF/IFAS Extension include:
- Don’t force animals into new situations or surroundings. Let them acclimate as best as possible
- Work with the herd as much as possible to get them accustomed to being handled
- Utilize herd mentality whenever possible
- Stay in an animal’s line-of-sight and out of its blind spots
- Understand an animal’s flight zone (the point where a person’s proximity will cause the animal to run away), and the point of balance (point around the shoulder where the animal will either stop or move), and use them to move cattle with less stress
- Make sure pens, corrals and chutes have no distractions or flapping parts that could spook cattle
- Remain calm and quiet as much as possible
- Don’t overcrowd animals in pens
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