Safe Livestock Transport

Learning animal behavior will greatly increase the ease of safe livestock transport.

| April/May 1998

  • 167-010-i3
    Knowing the behavior of your cattle will guard the safety of both animal and handler.

  • 167-010-i3

An inevitable aspect of raising livestock is the pattern of relocating them from the farm to a market, to a fair, or to another farm and back again. The two critical considerations in safe livestock transport are the safety of the handler/owner and the safety of the animals. Knowledge of animal behavior and of how animals respond to humans will reduce stress and ensure the safety of both handler and animals.

Safe Livestock Transport: Cattle

A brief review of the basics of livestock behavior will help handlers better work with their animals and better understand the impulses behind their actions. Cattle possess a wide panoramic visual field — up to 340° in some breeds — and have the ability to see color.

Cattle display body language, and a working knowledge of these subtle signals is important. Healthy calves and cattle give a luxurious stretch upon rising from a laying down position and then relax to a normal posture. Increased standing or frequent shifting of weight between feet is a sign of discomfort or discontent.

The most reliable clue to a cow's condition is to observe its tail. The tail will hang loosely straight down when the cow is grazing, walking calmly, or relaxed but will be clamped down between the legs when cold, frightened, or sick. When the tail is held away from the body the cow feels threatened or is investigating. A galloping cow will hold her tail straight out from her body; when there is a kink in the tail, she is in a playful mood.

Cattle respect a solid fence and seldom ram or attempt to run through a solid barrier, unless very upset. Excited cattle often run through a fence because they are unable to see it. Place ribbons on the cables or wires to increase visibility. Behaviors that indicate discomfort for cattle include attempting to escape, vocalizing, or kicking.

When moving cattle, and to a lesser extent sheep, it is important to understand the concept of flight zone and point of balance. The flight zone is the animal's personal space. The closeness of a human that animals will tolerate depends on their tameness or wildness. Frequent gentle handling will slowly decrease the flight zone. To determine the flight zone, slowly approach a group of animals. When the handler is outside of the flight zone, the animals will turn and face a handler at a safe distance. When the handler enters the flight zone, the animals will turn away. Penetrate the flight zone too deeply and the animal will bolt, or turn and run past you. The best place to work an animal or group of animals is at the edge of the flight zone.

12/25/2007 2:27:33 PM

May I please ask if you are the wonderful Elizabeth Barnes that once lived in Scripps Ranch in San Diego, CA.?

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