Keep it relaxed — practise low-stress cattle handling to stay safe

You might think you know the risks, but complacency is your enemy during this busy season

Keep it relaxed — practise low-stress cattle handling to stay safe
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As we head into another busy time of year for cattle producers and handlers, it’s good to stop and think about all the increased risks we face over the next couple of months.

Fall is a dangerous time because there is a lot more movement, as ranchers are bringing in cows and calves that haven’t been touched in months and feedlots are operating on long hours.

For those of us who have been working with cattle for many years, it’s tempting to think that we already know all the risks involved and how to keep ourselves safe.

But complacency or ‘cutting corners’ to save time is often the culprit when it comes to farm injuries.

This is why we at AgSafe Alberta like producers to remember that it’s always a good idea to remind yourself, and your staff, of the basics when it comes to animal handling.

When completing jobs on your farm or ranch, the safety of humans is always the top priority, followed by the safety of the animals. The lowest priority is the safety of property. Think of this pyramid when making decisions and assessments for safety practices.

We believe in low-stress cattle handling as it promotes safer work, healthier and more relaxed cattle and more productivity.

What is low-stress cattle management?

Basically, it means understanding why and how cattle act and react, and then designing an environment and processes that accommodate their existing behaviour instead of trying to force unnatural behaviour.

This translates into ensuring your herd’s first handling experience is a positive one, always being consistent in practices to build trust, limiting loud noises, and always maintaining a consistent level of control over your herd.

Low-stress animal handling ensures the handler is in an optimal position at all times, to not trigger negative responses in cattle. Each animal has a flight zone and may respond unpredictably if you move into it.

For example, if you move behind their shoulder, they’ll move forward. If you move in front of them they’ll back up or stop. If you apply pressure to either of these areas but the animal does not have a path to release the pressure (for example, if you walk towards their head while their back is against a fence) they may try to release the pressure through you, leading to an unsafe situation.

Knowing and understanding the flight zone and other typical cattle responses is key.

Low-stress cattle management is also understanding how cattle are most comfortable travelling. They move best together, as they are herd animals, so it’s always best to avoid separating them, especially when moving them through animal handling systems.

Training your family and workers with basic knowledge of animal behaviour is always a good safety policy.

A couple of final reminders when it comes to safe animal handling:

  • Never get close enough to be kicked
  • Always have an escape route planned
  • Use no more force than necessary
  • Take your time

Looking for more information to grow the culture of safety on your? We at AgSafe Alberta can help. Visit our website at or contact 1-833-9AG-SAFE anytime for more information.

Karleen Clark represents the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association on the board of AgSafe Alberta and operates KCL Cattle Company, a a mixed cattle, feeding and farming operation, in Lethbridge County with her family.

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