Safe Handling of Livestock

There are many times when working livestock that an animal has bolted, got spooked, or just plain won’t do what we want them to. In these situations there can be an increase in the fear level of the animal and an increase in the agitation level of the handler. In this situation, the chances for the animal, handler, or both to get hurt increases significantly. By following and understanding some simple animal behaviors, you will be able to reduce stressful situations while handling livestock and create an environment that is safer for all involved.

The first thing regarding moving and handling livestock is how they perceive their surroundings. Being a prey animal, most livestock see the world with wide-angle vision. Their eyes are located to the side of their heads to allow them to see around them while they are grazing. Livestock, however, have a small blind spot and that is directly behind the animal. This is an area where working with an animal if they lose sight contact in the blind spot, this will create fear in the animal. Special note is that cattle have better depth perception when they are still with their head down. Due to this behavior, cattle in areas of contrasting light will often stop and lower their heads to get a clearer understanding of their surroundings. Through understanding an animal’s sight pattern and the need to keep you in it there are a few handling techniques that we can take advantage of. The first is the flight zone. The flight zone (figure 1) is the area around an animal that when a human invades that area, the animal moves. If you enter the flight zone slowly, the animal tends to move slowly. If the flight zone is entered abruptly, the animal tends to react in a similar manor.

The second is the point of balance; this is the point where the animal will either move forward or backward with the relationship to the handler.  As you move from the behind the animal, it will move forward. This will keep you out of the flight zone and still in sight of the animal. The animal will also want to move in a way that is not confrontational if given the choice. When you move too far forward on the animal, it will start to move backwards or turn away from the handler.

Livestock are much more sensitive to pitch change than humans. As stated before, livestock are prey type animals where high pitched sounds are usually those signaling an alarm or harm to the animal. So handling or working the animals with a calmer tone usually keeps the animals calmer and ultimately safer to work with.

By understanding animal’s natural reactions you can create a more positive handling experience for you and the animal. Staying calm will help keep the animals calm, however when you do find yourself or the animal getting a little excited, step back take a short break and start over. This will actually reduce time, stress, and increase safety when handling your livestock.

Author: Adam Hady Agriculture Agent, Richland County UWEX

Originally Published: The Weekend Farmer, Summer 2010