Take the stress out of animal handling
Like humans and other animals, livestock such as sheep and cattle are sentient beings with the ability to evaluate the actions of others in relation to themselves and third parties.
Livestock also have a degree of awareness and are capable of remembering some of their own actions and consequences, assessing risks, as well as experiencing feelings and emotions such as fear, happiness, pain and distress.
Most farmers understand and can identify the effects that poor feed, water and husbandry have on the welfare of their animals, but are sometimes unaware of the adverse impacts that they can have.
Inappropriate handling can lead to fear of humans and, in turn, depending on the regularity of contact and handling, chronic stress responses can burn up energy which could otherwise be used to produce meat, wool or milk.
Highly stressed animals translate in economic terms to decreased production, reproduction and growth.
Research has shown that inappropriate handling can result in up to a 20 per cent variation in productivity, reproduction and product quality, especially in more intensively handled livestock such as pigs and dairy cattle.
Understanding the behaviour of stock and how they perceive humans is a key factor in ensuring stock handlers act in ways that will not initiate a fear response.
While fear is a normal and adaptive response designed to prevent injury, chronic fear in animals can cause long term stress responses making routine handling very difficult.
When moving livestock, the key skill to low stress stock handling is to apply ‘pressure’ to the flight zone of an animal to make it move, then releasing that pressure when the required movement has been achieved. The most common mistake made is to continue to apply pressure when movement in the desired direction has already started.
Canny producers generally use their knowledge of livestock behaviour to advantage in all aspects of livestock production and management.
For example, by helping stock to become familiar with humans in a neutral setting, such as a paddock, can help to reduce the impact of negative procedures that are necessary as part of normal animal husbandry.
Having properly designed facilities and yards also helps with labour efficiency and allows easy movement of livestock.
It’s worth noting that livestock have long memories, especially with respect to unpleasant experiences and will try hard to avoid places where they have had bad experiences, even if there are no stock handlers present.
However, the good news is, livestock also learn from and remember good experiences, for example lambs fed supplementary feed with their mothers will consistently come to a feed trail later in life.
Livestock are fearful of loud noises, yelling and barking. As a natural defence, they see dogs and humans as predators and will generally try to get away from them.
Working an understanding of animal behaviours into your livestock handling techniques will increase productivity. If your livestock are happy, you will be happy too.