How to Handle Cattle

"Take it from this animal-behavior exprt: let your herd's animal instincts guide your handling practices to ensure safety for humans and animals. "

| December 2017/January 2018

  • Learn the instinctual behavior patterns of your cattle to help keep them calm.
    Photo by Getty Images/Joakimbkk
  • Pressure Zone, the single tan animal has lifted its head and is aware of the handler, who has entered the outer edge of the pressure zone. Flight Zone, the four black cattle have turned away because the handler walked through the pressure zone and entered the edge of the flight zone. No reaction, the animals in the distance are unaware of the handler's presence.
    Photo by Temple Grandin
  • The point of balance is located at the shoulder when the handler is close, and moves to just behind the eye when the handler is farther away.
    Illustration by Ilona Sherratt
  • Nancy Irlbeck from Wellington, Colorado, demonstrates how her sheep quietly move around the “bubble” that’s formed by the outer edge of the flight zone.
    Photo by Jason Houston
  • To move a single animal forward, stand behind the point of balance and stay out of the blind spot. When you’re close, the point of balance will be at the shoulder. When you’re farther away, the point of balance may move to just behind the eye. When you’re on the outer edge of the pressure zone, the animal will become aware of your presence and turn to face you. When you penetrate the edge of the flight zone, the animal will turn away and move.
    Illustration by Ilona Sherratt

All species of grazing animals are born with natural behavior patterns that help them avoid predators. Handlers can make use of these behaviors to gather and move livestock. Calm animals are easier to handle than agitated animals — and studies show that animals that remain calm during handling have increased weight gain, better reproduction, and fewer injuries. Grazing animals naturally employ five basic instinctual behavior patterns to avoid predators. If you understand these behaviors, you’ll be able to gather and drive almost any grazing animal herd.

1. When grazing animals first spot a predator, they’ll turn and face it. The predator is in the pressure zone. The pressure zone is the area in which an animal first becomes aware of a potential threat — whether a predator or an approaching handler — and turns its head or body to face it (see illustration). The animal monitors the location of the threat and decides when to stay and when to move away.

2. At the point where the animals can no longer tolerate the handler’s approach, they’ll turn and move away. The handler has entered the flight zone. As the handler approaches, the handler exits the pressure zone and enters the flight zone.

3. If a handler crosses a grazing animal’s point of balance, located at the shoulder or just behind the eye, the animal will always run in the opposite direction. This innate maneuver can help an animal dodge a fatal attack on its flank.

Handlers can take advantage of this instinctual response by passing across the point of balance to move livestock calmly. Using point-of-balance principles is especially helpful when guiding either a single animal or a group of animals through a single-file or double-file chute. If you want to move an animal forward, never stand at its head and poke it on its rear. This gives the animal conflicting directional signals. When you work inside the flight zone and walk in the opposite direction of the desired movement, the animal will move forward when you cross the point of balance.

4. Grazing animals form bunches when they live in an area with predators. This makes it harder for a predator to single out a lone individual.

8/8/2018 10:53:28 PM

Valerie - A simple single or double strand electric fence is NOT very expensive and very quick and easy to install. Most cattle KNOW what an electric fence is and can sense the electricity when it's on. Start with one acre and expand as you can afford to.

12/10/2017 8:35:35 PM

We live in an area where our neighbor's free range cattle have the right of way unless your property is fenced. We don't have the funds to fence our 10+ acres so have to resort to other methods to keep them from our small trees and my flowers and vegetables. As a vegetarian, I have told them that since I don't eat them they shouldn't eat my stuff, but that dosen't work! I am going to try and do better next year. I like to see them and have many photos. They are very gentle creatures. They usually arrive in groups. We rarely see one on its own.

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