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Low-Stress Livestock Handling Can Save You Time And Money

Knowing your cattle’s herd instincts and working with them instead of against them can give you peace of mind and make handling easier.

That was the theme of a livestock-handling clinic put on by rancher Dylan Biggs at the recent Ranching Opportunities seminar at Olds College.

Biggs runs anywhere from 200 to 900 cattle at TK ranch in east central Alberta and moves them frequently for rotational grazing. Because he calves during May and June, moving and calving occur during the same time and Biggs looks for ways to make cattle moving more enjoyable and less stressful.

“When we get in the position where we’re behind these cattle and we’re starting to use our bodies, fear, and force to get the job done, the cattle don’t respond very well,” he said. “It’s hard on the facilities, it’s hard on the cattle, and it’s hard on people and relationships.”

Safe and effective livestock handling requires an understanding of herding dynamics and how to gently apply pressure to cattle. Biggs quoted Temple Grandin, who said that cattle are more afraid of fear than they are of humans.

Cattle can be unmanageable in two different scenarios, said Biggs.

“There are those cattle that are so quiet that they won’t move, and there are those cattle that are so absolutely terrified that you can’t get close,” he said. “If we’re going to make this thing work, we have to bring it to the middle where we have a balance of respect and trust.

“Those cattle that are terrified of us have to trust us so that we can work with them. The last thing we want to do is make them more afraid.”

When handling animals, Biggs looks to see if they seem nervous and takes the time to make sure that they become comfortable with his approach. He can tell an animal is more relaxed if it turns away from him with its head down, but doesn’t speed up or run when he is approaching.

“You need your cattle to be in a certain mind frame,” he said. “If you resort to fear and make cattle afraid, then they’re really hard to handle. If you establish trust as your foundation, then you can do other things and it becomes easier, relatively.”

Pairs are harder

Moving pairs is one of the hardest things to do, said Biggs, who moves two-day-old pairs in a rotational grazing system. When cows and calves are already paired before moving, he doesn’t have to worry about as many calves running back to the original pasture. Once paired and settled, he can efficiently move the cattle in a loose pack. He waits until there is no bawling and tries to keep them in a single file as young cattle in particular become agitated if there is a congested pack pushing to get through the gate. He has one handler in the front, and will pair cattle up to three or four times depending on the length of a move. Biggs believes pairing cattle up multiple times can make the process easier, and will save time in the long run.

Apply pressure on the sides, he advised.

“By virtue of human nature, we like to be behind stock and we like to push stock,” he said. “One of the things that we need to do is get a little bit more flexible relative to our position on a herd or on a single animal. If cattle don’t trust you, the surest way to make them more nervous is get behind them, where they can’t see you, and push them.”

Producers can use pressure on the sides of a herd, even if they happen to be on the back end of a herd, but it’s best if the handler can stay in an area where the lead cattle can see them.

“One thing that you need to do when herding is pay attention to the whole herd,” he said. “A lot of times, there’s going to be something going on at the front.”

Biggs said it is also human nature to cut an animal off, but it’s best to anticipate the way that the animal is going to move and apply pressure to keep them in the flow.

“We need to learn to be a bit different with our positions sometimes,” he said.





“Cattle are more afraid of fear than they are of humans.”

About the author


Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.


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  • Tamara Mowat

    No such thing as humane slaughter. All beings want to remain alive. This is just propaganda.

  • Cappy Odinsen

    Earn an animals trust, then murder them. That makes you sickos sociopaths. Humans have zero need for meat, and are far healthier without it. 50% of meat eaters in the US have a heart attack. Number of people who have had a heart attack on a whole-foods, plant-based diet? 0. That is right. Not a single recorded person eating a diet of whole plant foods has had a heart attack. And the number of people who starve to death each day because you are feeding food resources to those animals you want to kill instead of to them? 21,000 people. That makes you culpable in killing human beings purely for profit.

  • Garion Porter

    Stop killing animals for money! We don’t need meat anymore. Seriously-this mass holocaust has got to stop if we want a chance to make it as a race. I guarantee you that every single one of those animals wanted to live. Or do we care about that? 🙁

  • Joan Criqui

    To a man whose mind is free there is something even more intolerable in the sufferings of animals than in the sufferings of man. For with the latter it is at least admitted that suffering is evil and that the man who causes it is a criminal. But thousands of animals are uselessly butchered every day without a shadow of remorse. If any man were to refer to it, he would be thought ridiculous. And that is the unpardonable crime.
    Romain Rolland