While Boone Carter's “Don't Stress” article in your April issue (p. 32) was interesting and informative, the paragraph referring to the use of electric cattle prods was just the opposite. If the use of hot-shots up to 25% of the time is acceptable, that is the same as saying you don't need to be concerned if your crew is “hot-shotting” one out of every four animals handled on a daily basis.
This is totally unacceptable in my opinion. I've managed ranches all over the West for the past 20 years, and have had little or no need for hot-shots. The ranch I currently manage doesn't even have one, and we run as many as 3,000 stocker calves at any given time. We've been getting along this way for more than four years.
I think the industry would be better off if we weaned ourselves from hot-shots completely (other than rare emergency use) before it gets done to us, instead of by us. Our industry is characterized by being reactive rather than proactive. Will we ever learn?
Van Horn, TX
Boone Carter replies:
To clarify any misinterpretation, as noted in the article, I advocate minimal use of electric stimulation (“Use electric cattle prods sparingly”). The metric of 25% suggests a simple standard by which every producer can measure the functionality of their handling facilities, and use at that level indicates a problem in handling or facilities design.
The threshold of 25% is based on recommended evaluation criteria for handling facilities at packing plants, which were published by the American Meat Institute, and are based on research conducted by Temple Grandin. Grandin's research showed that that vocalization was associated with excessive electric prod use, which she reported occurred at very few plants.
However, there is little, if any, direct evidence that electric prods cause tissue damage or compromise carcass quality. A study of the effect of electric shock on dairy cows indicated that its physiological effects are very short term, and dissipate within minutes (Lefcourt, 1986).
A major incentive to avoid any unnecessary force is to prevent negative associations with handling, which makes future handling more difficult. A study of aversive stimuli in handling suggests that electric prods are not much different than yelling, and only slightly different from hitting or tail twisting, in causing cattle to avoid the crowd alley (Pajor et al., 2000).
The reader's letter suggests, as does the article, that with properly designed facilities and a proper approach to low-stress handling, the use of any excessive force is unnecessary. The key principle is to be judicious in any pressure used to move cattle.