Animal handling that’s efficient and low-stress on the cattle – and people – is equally important to any successful program. Because of the volume of animals this couple handles in a year, they have firsthand knowledge about which facilities and handling tactics work..

The Olsons say the most common mistake is trying to handle too many cattle at one time. “You can handle large numbers in a day, but you’ve got to bring them into the crowd pen and alley three to four head at a time,” Tim says. “You may take more steps in a day, but you can work the cattle a lot faster.”

It’s not uncommon for the couple to easily work 500-1,000 head/day. “We’ve done nearly 1,100 head in six hours using portable equipment,” Tim reports.

In addition to working a few head at a time, Tim emphasizes the importance of working cattle in an alley from “front to back.”

“The natural tendency is to go to the cow’s hip, but cattle cooperate better when they can see you. You need to get her attention by walking past her head; she will move forward almost all the time.”

For producers looking to improve their handling facilities, the Olsons say it’s important to design a system that can be operated with just one or two people. Tim has provided input to numerous producers in designing their facilities, and was consulted in the design of cattle facilities at the North Dakota State University Research Center in Carrington.

They also believe that portable equipment set up in a pasture is a viable option. They frequently synchronize, breed and preg-check 500-1,000 head/day with such facilities.

Sidebar: Preg-checking is a report card

Once breeding season is complete, Chandy Olson, DVM, says ultrasound pregnancy testing the herd is an equally important management tool to determine calving dates and identify any fertility concerns.

Herds with an abnormal amount of open or late calving cows may indicate a reproductive-disease problem, a bull fertility problem, or more frequently a nutritional or stocking rate problem.

She says the best time to ultrasound is between 30 and 100 days of gestation – but can be done as late as 120 days. Frequently producers will ultrasound cows when they precondition calves because the cows and calves are already sorted.

Based on the calving date information, Olson says cows can be divided into calving groups that are 20-30 days apart (i.e., early, middle and late calving groups). This can help decrease feed costs and focus labor efforts during calving.

Kindra Gordon is a freelancer based in Whitewood, SD.


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