«LOW-STRESS CATTLE HANDLING: AN OVERLOOKED DIMENSION OF MANAGEMENT Dr. Tom Noffsinger and Dr. Lynn Locatelli Dr. Tom Noffsinger is senior partner of ...»
LOW-STRESS CATTLE HANDLING:
AN OVERLOOKED DIMENSION OF MANAGEMENT
Dr. Tom Noffsinger and
Dr. Lynn Locatelli
Dr. Tom Noffsinger is senior partner of Twin Forks Clinic in Benkelman, Nebraska. His daily
activities include consultation to beef feeding and cow-calf operations in the areas of health,
performance, and animal behavior. Dr. Noffsinger earned his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University and completed the University of Nebraska’s Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center Beef Cattle Production Management Series. He received the AVC’s Consultant of the Year Award in 2001 and the Nebraska VMA’s Distinguished Service Award in
1999. Dr. Noffsinger is a member of the AVC, Nebraska VMA, and AABP.
Dr. Lynn Locatelli is a practitioner with Twin Forks Clinic in Benkelman, Nebraska, where she concentrates her efforts on end-point management of cattle and low-stress cattle handling. She earned her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from the University of California – Davis. Dr.
Locatelli is a member of the AVC, Nebraska VMA, and AABP.
We're excited to share with you what has been the most exciting time in my practice career. The learning and applying the things that Bud Williams has taught us has been very positive. We're not going to teach you how to do these things. Our goal is to explain our motives for being interested in this area, explaining some very basic concepts that Bud has taught us over the past four or five years.
For those of us who are tolerating bawling calves for four or five days in a row, tolerating buller rates of over a half a percent, please listen and see if some of these things might be helpful.
Dr. Lynn and I got interested in these things because we wanted to find easier ways to do things.
Our profession is having some problems. We're losing more cattle in feedyards today than we were 10 years ago. We have fabulous scientists and very good antibiotics to use. We're improveing vaccine technology every day. But cattle are dying, and they're dying too quickly.
I've been blessed with a chance to watch cattle for many years. As I went through cow/calf operations and feedyards, watching for things I could have a positive impact on, I was limited to what I had to provide to the producer. We all have seen cattle that clearly deserve a revaccination or antibiotics or trace minerals or a change in nutrition. Most of us are very good at seeing those things and providing them for our producers. But what bothered Dr. Lynn and me is that we saw cattle doing things not positive to performance and health and nothing in the back of our pickup applied to that situation. We saw cattle doing things limiting their performance, and they did not need to be revaccinated. The last thing they needed was an antibiotic, and nutritionally, we'd done everything we could. We had nothing to provide. Having Bud help us for sever-al years gave us another thing to put in our toolbox that's been a very effective way to take advantage of something we'd overlooked completely. One of the main messages this morning is the thing we forgot to utilize: the people who are supposed to be taking care of these animals.
We are revitalizing the human resources and it's absolutely amazing what we've seen in the positive impact on health performance and safety for both the people and the animals.
There's a lot of research and data out there that comes from slaughter audits that we should be ashamed of. The work done by the people at Great Plains Veterinary Education Center, published in 1999, is very characteristic of that. Dan Thompson reported slaughter audit results at our last meeting—results I'm not proud of. When you look at a calf crop going through a slaughterhouse, there are no difference in lung lesions at slaughter between treated and untreated calves. Forty percent of the calves treated for BRD showed lung lesions at slaughter. When they looked at the calves with "no treatment" tags, 42% had very similar lesions. It's pretty obvious that our profession and the people we train don't have enough observation ability to allow accurate assessment of health. Some of these animals are able to really hide their illness.
A very important issue is morbidity expectations when we ask animals to relocate and endure anxieties of confinement. It's always intrigued me that a two-year-old heifer in Idaho might have to go five or six miles for water, and might have to live off of yucca and a little bit of brome grass, and yet stay in condition score five, conceive and lactate and not have respiratory disease. Then we gather her up and put her in a feedyard in Kansas that has a clean water tank and every nutrient known to man in the bunk, and she'll decide to stand there and refuse to eat and she'll die there. That gives us some potential to change what happens to these animals. If we expect morbidity, we might create it. If we expect health, we might create it. As we talk about the concepts that Bud has helped us learn, Dr. Lynn and I have realized that it's important to address these things every day. There are event intervention opportunities that lead to a fabulous response. Examples include pasture rotation, fall cow work, calving, sorting off one animal, pairing, weaning, sorting. It's absolutely important that you and the people taking care of these animals apply these principles when the animals arrive at a feedyard, when the cowboys ride pens, when we pull cattle, when we process and when we sort.
We need to think about the task at hand and not be so task oriented. We need to plan before we do things. We need to concentrate while we're doing those things, and we need to keep reviewing and see how we've done. We sometimes have a choice. We can open a gate a let those cattle go out on a wheat pasture and do what they normally do—circle around the pasture for 12 to 16 hours. Or we can turn them out correctly. We can wean calves like we conventionally have done, or we can wean them at branding, organizing the branding day to facilitate weaning. I friend in Nebraska explained his weaning system. If they brand on Wednesday, they gather pairs on Tuesday evening and they have two big corrals. They bring 400 or 500 mother cows and they ask the mamas and the babies to go from one corral to another, wait three or four minutes and ask them to do it again, and the third time they send mothers and babies off in two different directions. They gently ease them into an area where they'll be worked the next day. They have a calf cradle or an alley that's left open and the calves just go to supper. Within an hour or two, all the calves figure out they can file through and find their mothers again. When they go in the next morning, it takes just a few minutes to separate the animals. The calves volunteer to walk into the cradle. My friend commented, "When we wean cattle, no one cries." These are examples of applying some of these situations.
Predator/Prey Behavior Dr. Lynn helped me to understand predator/prey behavior a little better. We have to realize we're working with prey animals and prey animals understand predator behavior. The more we understand the animals we're working with, the more effective we'll be. Predator behavior will invoke instinctive prey animal behavior. We need to utilize the knowledge of predator prey relationships and emulate prey animal communication. We can create positive handling interaction.
An example of predator/prey instinct is the idea that prey animals conceal weaknesses.
Think about the lung lesion data that Dr. Bryant reported on. It's no wonder that so many of these animals get to slaughter with serious lung lesions and none of our caretakers have recognized that. One of the excuses we can use is that these prey animals are very good at concealing weaknesses. They've evolved through millions of years knowing that all predators are lazy. No predator will chase the fastest, strongest animal. They're going to pick on the lame, the weak, the old and the depressed. If prey animals are approached by something they consider a predator, they will hide signs of depression, illness, age and lameness for as long as they can. They'll hide it until they die.
We had some calves a couple of years ago from South Dakota. The truck had been caught in a snowstorm and was delayed. When they unloaded the calves under a yard light, they were exhausted. Some had lay down in the truck and one had cut one toe off by sticking his foot through a hole. That toe was frozen to the trailer. The trucker wanted to find that calf and document the incident for insurance purposes. We thought we'd find an obviously lame animal. The power of adrenaline and endogenous steroids is amazing. The only way we identified that calf was he was leaving a bloody track in the snow. We found him, sorted him off, bandaged his foot, put him in out of the weather, and the next morning his foot was so sore he couldn’t walk on it. If they can hide the loss of a limb, they can hide some lung consolidation.
The other thing we always need to remember is that they are beautifully comfortable when they're together. They have a strong, strong herd mentality. They believe there's safety in numbers. They like to be together, and we need to utilize that instinct.
Another basic instinct is fight or flight. Any kind of confinement can be threatening. As predators, we need to override our instincts to chase and yell. Our main goal is to show prey animals that we are not there to be predators, but we're there to take care of them. The next time you're in a feedlot pen, go out and stand and see how big the circle is around you. If you stand like a post, they will gather around you. There's a simple explanation: all predators are rigid. So you're communicating to the prey animal that you're not a prey animal. When a mountain lion is getting ready to jump on a deer, he's rigid. These are important signals we need to understand and use.
Dr. Locatelli: Understanding predator/prey behavior is pivotal in understanding lowstress cattle handling. The animals know the language of the predator and the prey animal. If we learn something about each of these, we'll have a solid foundation for developing communication. Sensitivity and awareness of surroundings are what keep prey animals alive. Subtle movement has a big impact on how cattle perceive you.
Cattle, of course, are not a verbally-based species, so the language we're talking about is body language. It's not intuitive to us, but cattle need to see what is pressuring them and they need to see where you want them to go. In most contemporary facilities, we've taken that away.
Another thing that's very instrumental in understanding handling is understanding how to regulate pressure—when to ask for it, how aggressively to ask for it, and when to release it.
Doing that is counter-intuitive to the predator. Those of you who know me know I'm passionate about horses, and the greatest horsemen understand that predator/prey relationship. One of Pat Parelli's sayings is, "The horse learns when you quit doing what you’re doing." In terms of lowstress handling, it's the release of pressure that tells the cattle they're doing the right thing. Expect cattle to work for you.
This comes from Bob Williams: "Cattle tell you where to be if you open up your powers of observation. Cattle are easily trained." That's an odd concept. But we want the cattle to work for us and when they do, it's a form of training. It's two-way communication and respect that gets the animals to work for you. It's knowing when to release pressure that creates success. Try to emulate what those animals do naturally, because that's what they understand.
If cattle don’t go where you want them to go and they don't do what you want them to do, you haven't asked them correctly. That is very humbling. As Bud says, "The cattle are never wrong." It's valuable to me to try to be successful with low-stress handling and have somebody do some video taping, and then show those tapes to Bud. You may be trying to get cattle out the gate while you're telling them to go to the back of the pen. They always do what you ask if you ask in the right way.
These techniques work. These are basic techniques that everybody needs to learn and to teach clients. If you want to SLOW cattle movement, walk with movement. Walk parallel to the motion of your cattle. Walk out to the side and it will slow them down. It works. If it doesn't work, you're doing something wrong.
Walk against cattle movement to speed them up. Approach the herd at a 90-degree angle to speed up the cattle or ask them to start moving. Step back. That's your release of pressure.
That tells them they're doing right and it keeps them from going too fast.
I think we all know what happens if we run up behind them. That's the typical predator move. They'll start going in circles. That's where people think that cattle like to circle. Cattle don't like to circle. Usually, they're trying to see what's pressuring them and usually it's a predator back there.
Anyone familiar with Dr. Robert Miller knows he's been given a lot of credit for imprint training. He tells the story that he'd be called out to do a dystocia on a mare and the mare's foal would remember him when he went back to re-breed the mare. That's what turned the light on in his mind to the importance of imprint training. These animals are really impressionable at a very young age.
Dr. Noffsinger: The following film illustrates that animals that have been worked with correctly learn much more quickly than cattle that have been abused. This is about 2500 early-weaned calves that had been weaned for about 18 hours and they're bringing these calves in to give them some supplement. The cowboys on this crew include a six-year-old boy on a Shetland pony and a nine-year-old boy on a two-year-old colt. They're bringing these calves in and the father stands by the gate. If he sees a calf that needs treatment, he just steps in front of it and it goes willingly in another direction. The greatest response we've seen in teaching these things are when we have the option of starting at birth. These calves are driving each other. Many times, is we're trying to put cattle through a gate and someone is standing at the gate, it's a problem. It's not an issue here.