The 2021 Society for Range Management Annual Meeting done virtually in mid-February included a discussion on low stress handling of livestock. A team of experienced educators, led by Chris Schachtschneider, Oregon State University Extension range and livestock specialist, conducted the workshop.
An important aspect for people desiring to embrace this way of handling livestock is that they must change their mindset and philosophy on how they deal with animals. They must develop an awareness of what makes livestock comfortable. Stress comes from the animals not knowing what the humans are wanting them to do, or where they are expected to go.
Proper handling, then, comes from using techniques to apply pressure at the right time and to release pressure at the right time to allow the animals to respond appropriately with minimal stress.
“It’s an awareness of what makes livestock comfortable,” Schachtschneider said.
Team members agree that better weight gains, higher conception rates at breeding, lower instances of disease and less weight loss from hauling and working animals are the rewards for handling and moving animals in a low stress manner.
Low stress handling of Livestock is a way of working with animals that was perfected and taught to others by Bud Williams. Williams was a man who helped many people in many countries learn to take better care of their animals and minimize the trauma that animals feel from their encounters with human handlers.
The teaching team said using this approach is the difference between having a gathered herd rather than a scattered herd. It is an important aspect of managing grazing animals. The higher density, faster moving characteristics of managed grazing generally result in more livestock moving and placing. This could lead to more stress, if not done with the animals’ well-being in mind.
Another benefit resulting from low stress handling is that low stress handled animals tend to stay together in a herd, which helps to reduce losses from predators. When the livestock stay in closer proximity, they are less prone to being attacked by predatory animals.
Low stress handling is an animal-oriented way of working with the livestock and requires the human handlers to overcome their tendency to push hard and to be loud and in a hurry. It is necessary for human handlers to develop an understanding of how animals respond to pressure, how they see and respond to, not only people, but to fences, gates and tight places. There are opportunities to learn more about this way of dealing with domestic livestock. Workshops and training sessions are conducted periodically by people with good credentials, who can help interested folks learn about this humane and profitable way to work with livestock. Contact your livestock Extension Educators for more information.
There are also some good references available to help people learn about this method. One highly recommended publication on this topic is “Stockmanship: A Powerful Tool for Grazing Lands Management” by Steve Cote.