Handling livestock safely and keeping them free from stress tends to increase the productivity of any farm. Feeling stress reduces both rumen and immune functions of animals, and also lowers conception rates. Handlers who are experienced and understand animal behavior can reduce stress and increase the productivity of farm animals. The purpose of this article is to inform handlers about stress-free methods of livestock handling, and also address livestock handler safety. For the experienced handler, this article would be a reminder and serve as a reinforcement of the knowledge that you already know. The information given here is valuable for any animal handler who wishes to manage livestock safely, without stressing the animals.
Livestock safety rules apply for both the animal handler and the animals. There are many factors that may put the livestock handlers or livestock at risk. An animal handler should be aware of the risks that he or she might be facing when coming in close contact with animals, which include diseases, allergies, chemicals which are used for treating animals, and also the risk of physical injury. Physical injury may occur from faulty equipment or from misuse of equipment. Many accidents occur because of faulty or poorly maintained farm equipment or facilities.
The first thing you need to ensure, is that the farm, the surrounding area, and equipment of your farm are safe. All of your equipment should be maintained and inspected for safety on a regular basis. It is also important that you keep animals safe and free from physical risks at all times.
It is also important to remember that animals may act on instinct and go back to their primal reflexes when they are frightened or when confronted by a new handler or in a new situation. When handling animals, they should not see you as a threat. Animals will fiercely defend their territory, shelter, food, and young ones. It is therefore wise to stay away from their comfort zone, which is the “personal space” of every animal, unless they are well familiar with you. The more you understand animals, the better it will be for them and also for your own safety. It also requires that you stay alert and aware of different ways your animals might behave.
Handlers must remain in control and guide the animals and not force them into doing anything. The more they begin to trust you, the easier it will become to lead your animals to the pasture or to the barn. We will discuss several factors of animal handing below.
Understanding flight zone
Most herding animals, such as sheep, cattle, or pigs will maintain a safe distance or flight zone from the handler, unless they are completely tamed. They will like to keep the handler in sight at all times, and so, they will keep on moving to get you out of their blind spot. Cattle and sheep have wide angle vision, so they can see you even if you are standing beside them, without turning their head. The point of balance is near the animal’s shoulder. If you move back, the animals will move forward, and they will move back if you stand in front of the point of balance.
Note that animals tend to move in the opposite direction of handler movement, so walking in the opposite direction of the desired direction of movement to move groups of animals is advisable. Animals will speed up when you move in the opposite direction, and will slow down when you move in the same direction. These principles work with all herding animals.
When animals are completely tamed, they will have no flight zone. Handing animals will become very easy, so handlers should spend some time walking around with the herd.
Many beginner animal handlers make the mistake of standing in front of the animals when attempting to make them move forward in a chute. Groups of animals will move forward in a chute (race), without having to prod them, when the handler moves in the opposite directions, past the point of balance. If the animals are moving through the chute by themselves, leave them alone.
In a single file race, the point of balance will be at the shoulder. On pastures and large pens, the point of balance may move forward and be slightly behind the eye. Cattle may act differently when on pasture than when they are in a single file race or in a pen because they are not confined to a small area.
Understanding the flight zone and the point of balance will help the handler to move cattle and other herding animals more easily. The flight zone is the animal’s personal space. As the animals become tamed, they will allow you to be in their flight zones, and you can even touch them, without frightening the animals. Tame animals can be lead, instead of driving them, and they tend to have a “follow the leader“instinct, where you need to assume the role of a leader. Leading a group of tamed, calm animals is an excellent way to move cattle on pasture in a stress-free way.
We will be giving you animal tips, handing, and recommended safety tips for working with animals in our later blogs, so please keep reading our articles.
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Source: Sustainable Livestock Nutrition