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Keep calm — and stay on the left — when working cattle

Nebraska veterinarian says the top priority is to demonstrate that people — a.k.a. ‘coyotes’ — are not really a threat


Stay on the left side of cattle and treat them right.

That was demonstrated by Dr. Kip Lukasiewicz during a live animal-handling session at the Canadian Beef Industry Conference.

“People create the interaction and the guidance,” said the Nebraska veterinarian and consultant who often works with feedlots on animal handling and facility design.

What’s important is always using a positive manner, he told his audience at the Agrium Western Event Centre.

“When we arrive cattle at the feedlot, we always have people to greet the cattle off the truck,” he said. “That’s their first impression of the coyote on the place.”

Coyotes is Lukasiewicz’s term for humans — or rather his description of how cattle view people.

Cattle’s instinctive mistrust of people is why it’s important not to use prods or sticks.

“When you greet cattle, they can see that, right off the bat,” said Lukasiewicz, who teaches handlers to use only their voice and arm movements.

photo: Alexis Kienlen

He tries to work on the left side of cattle because they will typically move to the left and therefore watch you from their left eye.

In his demonstration, he moved 15 head through a set of chutes and a squeeze, using a bud box.

“We’ll bring them in, as if they are coming in the truck,” he said. “I’ll put them in the calving pen over there and then I’ll bring them out and I’ll do a dry run through the bud box in the chute and the squeeze.

“The whole time, when I take them out onstage again, what you’ll notice about me on that left eye — I will teach them to stay in single file, coming by me.”

This is all preparation for what happens next. Everything that is done with cattle is about preparing them for the next stage of life, he said.

The cattle, that had never seen the veterinarian before, were just like feedlot cattle and were “pretty workable.”

A good dog can also be a benefit when working cattle.

“I’m not as good as a collie or a keltie that can get out under the fences and come through. If you watch a good cattle dog work, they’re not nipping at heels, per se, they’re just back and forth.”

If Lukasiewicz finds cattle in an arrival pen are skittish, he works with them before they go through processing. He focuses on an animal that has its head up and is looking at him.

“If this was a bigger pen, I’d start here and I’ll put all the pressure I could on that red baldy face,” he said as he moved that animal off of the other ones, and pulled him out.

“I can put pressure down on them and if I need to get it off, I just pull it off,” he said.

All of this is preparation to send them through the bud box or tub system.

Lukasiewicz said that cattle always signal with their ears first, and then their eyes.

“See his ear, he just turned and gave me his eye,” said Lukasiewicz, who studied with the late Bud Williams.

“It’s going to be a challenge, when these cattle came before, they didn’t see all the coyotes up in the stands,” he said, referring to his audience. “So this is what I mean by, just get off their eyes.

“Sometimes cattle will turn back on their handlers in an alley, which is a sign that the handler needs to change focus. Draw back, don’t make a commotion.”

Cattle should be given space and taught they can move past people in a calm manner, he said.

However, some pressure is sometimes needed.

“If the cattle start turning and trying to find me, then I’m too far off. I have to get right over on his eye, slow the pressure on his eye,” he said.

The secret is not about working very hard — just being with the cattle and teaching them that humans are OK.

“Just teaching these cattle that everything we’re doing to them is just to settle them down,” he said.

Reducing stress while handling livestock can result in better cattle health, and fewer treatments when the cattle enter the feedlot pen, he said. It can also improve respiratory health, and reduce lameness and toe abscesses.

About the author

Reporter

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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