Sometimes, it’s the things you think you know but don’t which offer the most immediate opportunity.
“Most technology requires additional monetary investment,” says Ron Gill, Texas AgriLife Extension livestock specialist. “Improving your livestock-handling skills requires no additional inputs other than time and commitment.”
There’s plenty of research documenting the economic advantages of handling cattle in a less stressful manner. Effective stockmanship can increase animal performance and decrease morbidity, for starters.
Working with cattle and their natural instincts rather than against them requires less investment in facilities.
When it comes time to gather cattle and put them through the chute, Gill explains, “With effective stockmanship, we can do it quicker and with less labor. We can get our money back by increasing gain or decreasing shrink, however you want to look at it, without additional inputs.”
Effective stockmanship revolves around five basics of cattle behavior, Gill says.
- Cattle want to see you,
- Cattle want to go around you,
- Cattle want to be with and go to other cattle,
- Cattle think of only one thing at a time, and
- Cattle want to move away from pressure exerted on them.
“It all boils down to placement of the handler in relation to the cattle, and getting cattle to respond the way you want with the correct amount of pressure,” Gill says. He explains most people are pretty good at getting cattle into the corral; “It’s when the gate closes that it all tends to go downhill.”
It’s about more than economics. Some folks obviously know how to handle cattle effectively – whether that’s due to lessons passed down to them from previous generations, inherent ability, or both.
Overall, though, Gill says, “I think the industry as a whole has a lot of complacency about this issue; there’s a lot of confidence in our past success and the way we’ve been perceived by the public. I think that’s eroding.”
That’s one reason Gill, Curt Pate and Todd McCartney began offering their innovative “Stockmanship and Stewardship” seminar series in 2008 (www.effectivestockmanship.com). It’s why the checkoff’s Beef
Quality Assurance program and seven corporations sponsor live demonstrations of this series across the nation. It’s why Gill was one of the presenters at the recent International Symposium on Beef Cattle
Welfare (ISBCW) at Kansas State University (KSU).
“I believe there’s some denial, and as an industry we need to change,” Gill says. “There are opportunities to change how we handle livestock.”
Presenters at the ISBCW were all commissioners for the fledgling North American Food Animal Well-
being Commission (NAFAWC) – Beef. Odds are you’ll hear a lot more of this group. It serves as the proactive fulcrum for scientifically grounded, practical animal welfare improvement in the cattle business.
“Animal well-being issues extend beyond the ag community,” says Dan Thomson, DVM. “People across the country are looking for more information on animal care and handling, and we’re eager to share our story with them.” Thomson, director of KSU’s Beef Cattle Institute, is an NAFAWC co-chairman.
The NAFAWC identified cattle handling as one of the issues that can be resolved without further research and with more producer outreach. Other such issues include cattle transportation, preconditioning and weaning methods, pain control and timing to market of culled animals.
“Each of these issues is tied to social responsibility,” Thomson says. “But there’s also a social responsibility to our industry’s sustainability.
If the industry isn’t profitable, it can’t be sustainable.”
Gill emphasizes that embracing effective stockmanship makes economic sense: “When you put everything you spend on a calf basis – how many weaned calves something costs – you stop spending lots of money.”
Effective stockmanship makes life easier for cattle and people. Gill explains, “Other areas we really focus on are the quality-of-life issues and improved family relationships, and how much improved they are when things go well at the cow lot.”