Reducing stress on livestock during handling will help reduce sickness, minimize the time off feed and help maintain meat quality.

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Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin

Dr. Temple Grandin, animal scientist at Colorado State University, encourages livestock handlers to reduce animal stress, which will improve livestock health and productivity. Grandin will be a keynote speaker at the Resilience for Land and Livestock Grazing Conference, March 27-28 at the Pendleton Convention Center in Pendleton, Ore.

Grandin is recognized internationally for her knowledge of animal behavior and its application in reducing livestock stress and improving effectiveness of animal handling facilities. She says, being a person with autism, it is easy for her to understand how animals think, because her thinking processes are like an animal’s. Her thoughts are in pictures and are not language-based.

“I have learned that there is a whole continuum of thinking styles, from totally visual thinkers like me to totally verbal thinkers,” she says. “People with autism and animals both think by making visual associations. These associations are like snapshots of events and tend to be very specific.

“Animals also tend to make place-specific associations. This means that if a horse has a bad experience in a barn with skylights, he may fear all barns with skylights, but will be fine in barns with solid roofs. This is why it is so important that an animal’s first association with something new is a good first experience.”

Grandin points out that fear is a major emotion in animals such as horses and cattle. Objects that make sudden movements cause the most fear. In the wild, sudden movement is feared, because predators make sudden movements when attacking their prey.

Both genetics and experience determine how an individual will behave in a fear-provoking situation. Animals with high-strung, nervous temperaments are generally more fearful and tend to form stronger fear memories than the more placid, calm types. People working with animals need to think about how the animals perceive the situations in which we put them.

Because livestock has wide-angle vision, loading ramps and handling chutes should have solid sides to prevent animals from seeing distractions outside the chute. Moving objects and people seen through the sides of a chute can cause balking or frighten livestock. Also, livestock working areas should have uniform lighting. Shadows and bright spots should be minimized.

Noise also causes distress. Most animals, especially cattle and sheep, are more sensitive to high frequency noise. Loud or shrill noises should be avoided.

Another important concept in livestock handling is flight zone. The flight zone is the animal’s personal space. When a person enters the flight zone, the animal moves away. Just outside the flight zone is a zone of awareness, or pressure zone. Animals will each have their own individual flight zone and pressure zone, which will depend upon their temperament and past experience. Experienced livestock handlers will be able to determine an animal’s flight zone and pressure zone soon after encountering the animal in a particular situation.

Understanding the behavior of livestock will enhance handling technique, reduce stress and improve both handler safety and animal welfare. Lower stress levels result in more productivity and healthier animals.

Livestock managers have an opportunity to learn more about animal behavior and animal management from Grandin at the Grazing Conference in Pendleton in March. Chris Schachtschneider, an Oregon State University Extension Specialist, will conduct a live demonstration on low stress handling as well. For more information go to rootsofresilience.org.

Doug Warnock, retired from Washington State University Extension, lives on a ranch in the Touchet River Valley where he writes about and teaches grazing management. He can be contacted at dwarnockgreenerpastures@gmail.com.

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