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Renowned expert says think like a cow when handling cattle

Learning how to use a cow’s natural tendencies to improve handling takes time, but it’s a skill that can be learned.

“Good cattle handling is going to require a lot more walking,” Temple Grandin told attendees at a recent livestock-handling seminar at Olds College.

People make a lot of mistakes when handling cattle and designing facilities, said the renowned animal science professor from Colorado State University.

Common mistakes include having too many cattle in a corral at one time and using poorly designed chutes. Many of Grandin’s cattle-handling systems use a half-circle in their design because cattle like to return to where they have come from. Cattle also have a natural impulse to follow other cattle, so you don’t want a cow to exit the chute before the next one starts in.

“One of the worst design mistakes you can make is to have a single-file chute that is too short,” she said. “This makes it impossible to use following behaviour.”

Knowing a bit about cow psychology alerts you to problems, such as the lone animal which becomes distressed when separated from the herd. These are the animals that cause the most injury to humans. Animals raised without a social group can also become dangerous. Dairy bull calves are a prime example of this, and it’s preferable to raise them in a group as they are less likely to be aggressive.

“You want bulls growing up knowing that they are cattle, so they don’t view people as rivals for mates,” Grandin said.

Grandin said she does not like dogs around cattle chutes as it teaches cattle to kick. When people are working on a calf, they should let the mother see what’s happening. Ideally, cattle should be accustomed to people on horses and people on foot, as they see them as two different things. Cattle moved by trucks or four-wheelers should be introduced to these kinds of machines and become accustomed to them.

“We’ve got to have manners and control things. We don’t want cattle racing to the feedyard,” she said.

Grandin spoke about Albertan Dylan Biggs, and his low-stress handling techniques.

“One of the basic principles is that you move inside the flight zone in the opposite direction of desired movement,” she said. “If you’re outside the flight zone, you move in the same direction as the desired movement.

“If you want to slow cattle down, you walk outside the flight zone in the same direction. If you want to speed them up, you walk inside the flight zone in the opposite direction. You cross the point of balance. When they’re out in the pasture, that’s going to be just past the eye, rather than the shoulder.”

Walking back and forth on the edge of the flight zone can cause cattle to bunch up. Stragglers should never be chased.

“Use the motion of the herd to bring those cattle in,” she said.

And don’t circle around cattle.

“You want to try to go perpendicular to the direction of movement,” she said. “When they start to go where you want them to go, back off! Don’t just keep pushing them.”

Cattle need to see where they are going, which makes dead ends in chutes a bad idea.

“If you bend too sharply, that will not work,” she said. “That’s one of the worst mistakes you can make,” she said.

The event was hosted by the Foothills Forage and Grazing Association and Mountain View County.

About the author


Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for the Glacier FarmMedia publication, the Alberta Farmer Express, since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."



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