Animal stockmanship is important to ensure animals are cared for in the safest way. Dr. Paul Rapnicki, University of Minnesota, said his goal for stockmanship is to reconnect the dairy industry through employees, vets, herdsmen and more.
Communication is the key to efficient and safe animal handling. Rapnicki said many of the techniques used today are not the best strategies for working with animals. A lack of awareness can lead to a dangerous situation. That’s because most human instincts are wrong about working livestock. To a cow, humans are the predators and she is the prey.
Every animal has a flight zone, which is the point where an animal feels threatened and has the instinct to move away. Before the flight zone is the pressure zone, or the area where the animal recognizes the person’s presence.
Every person who works with animals needs to apply pressure properly. Applying pressure involves the person’s position, time, angle and speed. Every cow also has a blind spot. It is important for the handler to know which spot is the wrong spot to approach or pressure the cow.
Cows communicate through the five senses of sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. Cattle can hear better than humans can. With the ability to pick up quieter noises and higher pitches, cattle are more susceptible to sound. Even though cattle don’t have great depth perception, they have spectacular peripheral vision. These traits mean any noise or sudden movement will have significant effects on animal behavior.
To ensure good cattle handling, Rapnicki said you need to be honest with them. Always let them see you so they know what is pressuring them. It is also important for the handler to know what senses stimulate the animals because cattle use their sight and hearing the most to detect pressure.
When it comes to properly pressuring cattle, only one person should pressure at a time and any others should be guides. Rocking back and forth is also better than waving arms because it provides a calming, non-threatening way to encourage the animals to move.
Rapnicki presented the procedure “T to the gate” to move animals to the area you want them. T to the gate means the handlers form the straight line of the top of the “T” and the cattle are the stem. The stem of the “T” should point to the entrance or exit of the pen, trailer or corral. The handlers then slowly move inward keeping the line straight as the cattle find where they need to go.
Cattle can learn once someone takes the time to teach them. Young cattle are capable of remembering, including both bad experiences and positive interactions. With young animals, spending 15 minutes every day for three days makes it more efficient to handle cattle in the future.