Tag Archives: low stress handling

How Can You Tell If a Group of Calves Are Acclimated?

 

A couple of years ago I took this video of my favorite blonde cowgirl at the beginning of an acclimation session.  Megan then edited the video by adding music (Fly Over States) by Jason Aldean.  The video remained up on YouTube for a couple of years but was taken down recently due to copyright infringement violation.  Apparently, Megan needed Jason’s permission to use the song 🙂

I noticed that the video had been taken down last week when I tried to use it during a presentation to the Kansas State Masters of Agri-Business students.  I fielded several questions from the group relative to low stress handling and cattle acclimating at the end of my talk.  Above is the video in non-edited form which I re-uploaded to YouTube over the weekend.

As a companion piece, below find the ways that I can tell if a group of calves are acclimated during their transition into the feed yard.

  • When asked, the calves will group in the home pen and move in straight lines around the pen.
  • When asked, the calves will exit the home pen in an orderly fashion, understanding where the gate is located.
  • Once down at the corral, when asked, the calves will calmly walk past the handler.
  • When asked, the calves will move back down the alley from the corral to the home pen with exuberance.  At the end of the acclimation period, cattle exhibit more excitement traveling back to the home pen than leaving the home pen.

The goal of acclimation is for the calf (group of calves) to become comfortable with both the home pen and a human caregiver, while learning where to eat and drink, and how to move off of alternate pressure and herd with confidence. 

An acclimated calf is comfortable in its environment, naturally curious, and accepting of a human caregiver.

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*On an unrelated note, for those of you Serious XM subscribers in the group, I will be featured on the Angus Journal Show — Rural Radio Channel 80 Saturday morning (January 17th) at 10:00am CST.  Check it out!

 

 

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Filed under Animal Welfare, General

Settling In…

There is stress associated with relocating. A trip in a truck, a new address, a new schedule, and new caregivers are just a few of the reasons that cattle may have elevated stress levels during the transition from the ranch to the feed yard. Weather can also exacerbate this relocation stress depending on what Mother Nature sends our way.

It took me many years to accept that I was never going to be able to completely eliminate stress from my cattle’s lives — Instead, I needed to work on reducing that stress to a tolerable level, and then teaching my animals how to effectively deal with it.

The goal = Comfortable and resting calves.

The goal = Comfortable calves.

We have a very specific acclimation protocol to follow at the feed yard when we receive new cattle. I believe that this is one of the most important things that I can offer to my animals during this time of transition. It takes time and dedication to implement, but I view it as critical.

The end of an exercising session -- the calves are returning to the home pen for breakfast...

The end of an exercising session — this time of year, it is predawn — calves are returning to the home pen for breakfast…

The main components of this acclimation protocol are:

  • Daily exercising prior to morning feeding for the first 4-7 days: Calves are asked to leave the home pen and travel down the alleyway to the main corral. There they are asked to walk past the handler calmly and confidently. As soon as the morning feed is delivered to the home pen, the cattle are then asked to travel back down the alleyway to the home pen.
  • Careful feed delivery: We have special rations (casseroles) that we feed to our animals during the transition period – they are high in forage and protein and particularly formulated to meet the nutritional needs of the animals. The feed is delivered 2X per day using a consistent schedule.
  • Vaccinating and deworming: All newly arrived cattle are vaccinated and dewormed. Vaccination needs are determined using the prior health history of the cattle, and our veterinarian plays a big role in helping me provide an appropriate holistic preventative health program for the animals.
  • Individual animal health is checked multiple times throughout the day.

The core components of bovine mental and physical fitness are clean, fresh water and feed; and a comfortable home pen that provides both safety and ample room for the expression of normal play behavior.

The calves excited to see the feed truck for the afternoon feeding...

The calves excited to see the feed truck for the afternoon feeding…

The care that my crew and I offer is both professional in nature, and fueled by compassion. It is not only the right thing to do for the animals, but also an important component to responsibly raising beef for you to share with your family.

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The That A Way ranch cattle finish their seven day acclimation period today. During these first days at the feed yard, the cattle established a personal comfort level in the home pen as well as building healthy eating habits that will enable them to efficiently convert our farm’s resources into beef.

It is the little things that matter most when it comes to Settling In…

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Filed under Beef Cattle Life Cycle: Ranch to Retail, General

Cattle Psychology – Where the Romantic Meets the Pragmatist…

A couple of weeks ago at the International Symposium of Beef Cattle Welfare, I heard Dr. David Fraser speak about the conflicting ideas of “romantic” vs “industrial” thoughts toward animal welfare. Listening to his presentation cemented my belief that I was a conflicted romantic and pragmatic animal welfare supporter.

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Saturday morning while exercising calves during a beautiful sunrise, it occurred to me that perhaps I am so drawn to cattle psychology because it is where the romantic meets the pragmatist.

I had spent the week working with some 550 weight fall born calves which arrived at the feed yard anxious and unsettled.  The first morning they waited grouped together in the back corner of the pen too unconfident to actively seek the feed bunk. Using great care, I entered the home pen and asked them to move in straight lines seeking to engage the “thinking” part of their brains. I then gently asked them to exit the pen gate and travel down the alleyway. Sensitive to their large flight zone, I used very mild alternate pressure to guide their movement.

After working with them in the main corral for a few minutes, I asked them to again travel back to the home pen where fresh breakfast had just been placed in the feed bunk. The long stem prairie hay and calf ration in the bunk caught the attention of several of the heifers as they traveled back into the pen, and before long many of the calves were lined up at the bunk finding breakfast.

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As part of my regular cattle acclimation protocol, I followed this same routine every morning for five days. Each day the animals gained a greater level of confidence and a better understanding of life in their new home. When I entered the pen on Saturday (day 5), I knew that the cattle were acclimated.

They looked at me with curiosity and hesitated before agreeing to leave the home pen as if to ask “are you sure that I really have to leave?”

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A good cattle caregiver can sense when a group of animals is settled and comfortable.

The natural energy to leave the home pen is less than the energy seen when the animals return to the home pen. In addition, the cattle travel down the alleyway and past a handler with confidence. Sometimes it is hard to attain this, but when it happens it is a thing of beautiful harmony.

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I love it when a calf asks me a question. I love it even more when he accepts my response and offers an appropriate reaction.

The romantic in me smiles because I know that I have made a positive difference in the welfare of the calf. The pragmatic in me also smiles because my “job” as a cattle caregiver just got a lot simpler. That calf will now handle more easily, is less likely to get sick, and converts his feed more efficiently thereby reducing the environmental footprint of my beef.

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Striving To Always Get Better…

I pride myself on being a good cattle caregiver.  I recognize that effective care is marked by a myriad of things which ensure quality bovine health.

I believe that no matter how good I am, I can always get better.

Watching talented cattle handlers is a great way to learn...

Watching talented cattle handlers is a great way to learn…

A couple of weeks ago, my crew and I attended a cattle care and handling training conducted by Dr. Kip Lukasiewicz and Dr. Shane Terrell in Elba, Nebraska.  We went on a road trip to meet with crews from other BMG feed yards and to learn from Dr. Kip and Dr. Shane.

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Leading from the front of the herd allows for the development of confidence in the animals…

The training was a combination of both classroom time and active cattle handling.  It covered the core concepts of Beef Quality Assurance, as well as basic components of cattle psychology to help us learn to better understand the animals that we care for.

My moment of epiphany during the training came when Dr. Kip said these simple words:

We can never completely remove the stress from our animals’ lives.  Rather what we can do is to teach them how to deal with it, so that they are better able to maintain optimal health as they move through each stage of their lives.

I do not know which Anne this statement spoke the most to:  Anne the cattle caregiver or Anne the parent.  But, I do know that this is powerful advice that will continue to shape my philosophy and increase my effectiveness as a leader and caregiver.

Empowering them to play an active role in solving challenges...

Because I love them, I need to empower them to play an active role in solving challenges…

I think that each one of us, from time to time, is guilty of trying to wrap those that we care for in bubble wrap—attempting to protect them from each and every challenge that comes their way.

Perhaps we would all be better served if we also focused our energy on teaching them how to personally play a role in dealing with challenges…

While my cattle are incredibly different than my children, I am also a leader and a caregiver to them.  This necessitates a personal understanding of a bovine’s unique needs and understandings so that I can help it to learn to deal with stress and stay healthy.

They are vastly different from my children, but I still need to empower them to handle challenges...

My relationship with them is vastly different than what I have with my children, but I still need to empower them to handle challenges…

Like any human, I am challenged by the effective understanding of my cattle as my animals think and perceive the world in a vastly different way.  I must constantly attempt to view the world through their eyes in order to ensure proper care.

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I work to empower myself to always search for improvement…

I enjoy the challenge of working with animals.  They invoke a level of empathy that inspires me to greatness.  I am grateful for those professionals that help me to solve the puzzle of bovine animal understanding.  And, I look toward the future with excitement as I am constantly able to improve my leadership and caregiver skills.

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Cattle Handling 101…

Well, it is a good thing that I became a feed yard manager instead of a teacher!  Although it appears that some of you watched the video, only four of you took the interactive challenge.  Many thanks to Robert, Carol, Sherry and Bill for taking the challenge!

Last weekend, I was bemoaning to my husband the fact that my cattle handling videos do not seem to interest very many people—to this comment he replied, “Well, you need to tape the videos in your swimming suit instead of your coveralls.”  While that is an interesting thought, I believe that my years of living in a bathing suit have passed me by.  Handling cattle in a bathing suit would also go against my feed yard safety policy which requires long pants and boots.

20 years ago...

Even though the interaction part of Thursday’s post did not garner great participation, good cattle handling is such an important part of the care that I offer to my animals that I would like to take a few minutes to comment on the video…

At AL Ranch before shipping to my feed yard...

The cattle in the video came from AL Ranch.  Those of you that remember my long series of posts tracing Calf #718 last summer will remember Al and Sallie Atkins (if you missed the series of posts you can find them under the Calf #718 topic archive on the home page).  The cattle featured in the video traveled from AL Ranch to my feed yard a couple of weeks ago.  I had my husband film the beginning of the 3rd day of acclimation for the cattle.

On the 1st day of acclimation, this group of cattle were very sensitive, and I was able to send them to the back corner of the pen before even opening the gate.  They had calmed down significantly by the 3rd session, and so it required a little more energy and pressure on my part to move them away from the gate.  I walked down the bunk line swinging my outside arm with energy in order to get their attention and get them to move away from the gate.

Question #1 was True!

While I want to teach my cattle where the gate is so that they exit the pen easily, I do not want to train them to simply run out of the gate every time that it opens.  This is why I asked the cattle to move away from the gate and toward the corner of the pen before I asked them to leave the pen.

Question #2 was True!

If I had not placed some pressure on the cattle when I entered the pen, then they would have immediately left the pen—they both remembered where the gate was and were interested in leaving!  By the last day of acclimation, the cattle’s interest has changed and  they would rather stay in the pen and just wait for breakfast.  At that point, I know that the animals have attributed comfort to the home pen and I have been successful in acclimating them.

Question #3 was C. Mousey Brown!

Shortly after I entered the pen there was one animal in particular that wanted to go directly out of the gate.  I had to remind the animal a couple of times to move with the group instead of going off on her own to exit the gate.  It is very important for me (as a lone handler) to encourage my animals to move as a group.  If they do not all go together, the flow of the cattle is disrupted and it makes my job as handler very challenging.

Question # 4 was False!

While the video may have been more entertaining if I had been knocked down on my behind by this animal, that is not what occurred.  You could see, however, that I had to move fairly quickly one time to make sure that I redirected the animal toward the herd.

Question #5 was B. Straight Lines and Angles!

If you watch my movements carefully, you will see that I walk in straight lines and move in angles toward the cattle to create alternating pressure that moves the cattle in the direction that I want them to go.

Question #6 was False!

These cattle (once I let them go toward the gate where they wanted to go) have a lot of energy and move very quickly.  They have quite a bit of impulsion.  If you remember back to the last cattle video that I put up, one interesting contrast between the two sets of cattle was their level of impulsion or energy.  While the first pen moved more slowly, this pen of cattle from AL Ranch moved with a higher level of energy.

Question #7: I calmly walked away from the cattle and then applied alternate pressure as needed to manage the flow of movement. This allowed them to leave the pen with confidence.  With a group of animals that have this much energy and desire to go somewhere, once you get good movement it is important to back off and remove the pressure so the cattle stay in a learning frame of mind.  It would be easy to overstimulate cattle of this nature.

My goal is learning and communication which results in organized movement.  While the pressure is what moves the animals, it is the release that allows them to learn.  The amount of pressure that is appropriate to use when handling cattle will change with each group of animals depending on their genetic nature and their prior cattle handling experiences.  It also changes during the acclimation period as the cattle begin to learn and become more comfortable with the handler.

Question #8 was False!

I move in a zig-zag pattern behind the cattle as they trail down the alleyway.  This is an alternate pressure movement (pressure and release) that encourages the animals to continue moving in a straight line.  Cattle are unable to see the area directly behind them, so as I move in a zig-zag pattern they can see me out of the corner of each eye which allows for consistent communication.

Sharing my passion with Megan--the next generation of good cattle handlers!

My husband and children remind me frequently that I tend to be a bit long winded when I get on the subject of cattle handling.  It is a subject that I love.  I hope that my passion is contagious—otherwise you probably quit reading about 500 words ago!

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Filed under Cattle Handling Videos starring Feed Yard Foodie!, General

Take the Feed Yard Foodie Cattle Handling Challenge!

We look just as young today as we did 16 years ago when this picture was taken!

I come from a long line of teachers.  My beloved Grannie taught 4th grade for 40+ years, and my amazing mom is still stimulating and educating young high school minds on the art of literary critique and essay writing.  As she so eloquently states, “my students keep me young!”. I believe that interactive learning is important, so I am inviting all of you to Take the Feed Yard Foodie Cattle Handling Challenge!

My favorite 12 year old remarked last night that I had been doing too much pontificating lately..

I always try to follow her advice so, to mix things up a bit, I would like to do an interactive series looking at cattle handling.  Now, as you read this, you should not get that same “sinking sensation” in your stomach that you used to get when you forgot that there was going to be a quiz and showed up to science class completely unprepared…I will not be grading your efforts, and I promise that participating will be FUN!  However, the amount of FUN that we have will be contingent on your enthusiasm and willingness to participate (please don’t let me down here, this will only work if you all watch the video and answer the questions!).  I laughed to my husband last night that I could offer signed copies of the American Cattlemen magazine as Cover Girl to the folks that participate, but he looked at me like I was crazy so I scrapped that idea…

Participating is easy: Step 1: watch this video of the beginning of an exercising session with a group of cattle (it is about 4 minutes long). Step 2:  answer the questions listed below about the video.

Questions:

1. True or False: At the very beginning of the video, as I walk down the outside edge of the pen to the gate, I swing my outside arm back and forth to both get the cattle’s attention and move them away from the gate.

2. True or False: The cattle remember where the gate is located and are interested in exiting the pen.

3. The animal that challenges me right after I enter the pen, is what color? A. Black, B. Black and White, or C. Mousey Brown.

4. True or False: You can tell that the animal is challenging me because it knocks me over on my behind…

5. My walking pattern while working with the cattle is comprised of A. Circling or curved movements or B.  Straight lines and angles?

6. True or False: These cattle are very lazy and have no energy as they exit the pen in the middle of the video.

7. How do I respond when the cattle begin to walk past me and exit the pen?

8.  True or False: I walk directly down the alleyway behind the cattle without ever changing my angle to them after they leave the home pen.

Extra Credit:  Name three ways that these cattle are either similar or different than the cattle in the last cattle handling video that I put up a few weeks ago.  Here is the link to the last video if you missed it:

You can leave your answers either in the comment section of this post or send them to me privately via the Ask Me section of the blog.  Next Tuesday’s post will talk about both the video and the answers…Have FUN!

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