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Previous issues of the BEEF Cattle letter
Issue # 709
November 3, 2010
Basic Cattle Handling Principles - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County, Buckeye Hills EERA
I grew up in the era of Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Animal type of mentality. Working cattle was considered something of a contest and a battle. If you didn't end the day feeling a little battered and bruised you probably didn't work hard enough. Working animals involved hollering and waving arms, sticks and canes. The truckers who loaded cattle had hotshots and were not hesitant to use them.
Today we know that there are better ways of handling livestock and it shouldn't resemble a battle but perhaps more like a dance. Folks like Bud Williams and Temple Grandin have demonstrated low stress livestock handling. It may be hard to break old habits, but in today's social environment and with agriculture under increasingly close survey, the sooner all livestock owners learn and apply low stress livestock handling principles, the better. Besides, evidence clearly shows it is a more productive way of handling livestock. It is beyond the scope of this newsletter to cover this topic in detail. Books and journal articles have been written on the topic and there are web sites and videos dedicated to livestock handling. However, just to start the discussion here are a couple of basic low stress cattle handling terms and principles:
Flight zone: Unless the animal is completely tame and has no fear what-so-ever of humans, there will be a flight zone. The flight zone is how close you can get to the animal before it begins to move away from you. It could vary from several feet to several hundred feet.
Pressure and Release: Pressure and release works with the concept of the flight zone in handling animals. Stepping within the flight zone of an animal pressures it to move, to get away from the handler. Stepping back outside of the flight zone releases pressure, the animal feels safer, and it stops moving. Constant pressure inside the flight zone can, in some cases, cause the herd to run. Using pressure and release, starting and stopping movement, keeps the herd calmer and allows movement to become more directed and purposeful.
Point of Balance: Uses the concepts of flight zone and pressure and release to direct cattle movement. Many low-stress cattle handlers say the point of balance is the shoulder of the animal, although there are some that say it is the ear of the animal. I guess you can experiment with your animals to determine exactly where it is. Regardless, if a handler enters the animal's flight zone from an angle behind the point of balance, the animal will move forward. If the handler enters the animal's flight zone from an angle in front of the point of balance, the animal will move backward.
Reduce noise: Cattle are more sensitive to noise than people. Loud noises excite animals. Flight zones can increase. Good livestock handlers are very quiet, seldom speaking when they work livestock.
Vision through Cattle's eyes: Cattle see differently than people do. They have a blind spot directly behind their head and see very well out the sides of their head (wide angle vision). Cattle have poor depth perception. While people have 140 degree vertical vision, cattle have only about a 60 degree vertical vision. This means they can't see what is directly below their head when their head is up. To simulate this, hold your hands out horizontally, like blinders below your eyes. It changes your perspective on the world.
Moving speed: We often come into a cattle handling situation with an agenda or some sense of a time schedule. When things don't go as planned, we start to hurry to try to make up for lost time. Moving fast, and trying to hurry and speed up the handling process, or making cattle move faster is a losing battle. In most cases, cattle speed is slower than our speed but moving at their speed will get the job done faster.
A good web site for those interested in doing more reading and learning about low stress livestock handling can be found at: http://www.grandin.com/behaviour/principles/principles.html. This is a good topic for practical, hands-on meeting or workshop such as the one mentioned below.
Cattle Handling Demonstration Meeting - Rory Lewandowski, Extension Educator, Athens County, Buckeye Hills EERA
A growing and increasingly important component of livestock agriculture is animal care. This is a broad topic, but one aspect of animal care involves animal handling. As described above, there are some well defined principles and concepts of animal handling that when put in to practice create less stress for both the livestock being handled as well as for the people working with the livestock. A cattle handling demonstration meeting is scheduled for Saturday, November 20, hosted by Scott Pfeiffer on his farm at 4315 Marion Johnson road outside of Albany. The meeting will begin at 1:30 pm and will conclude by 3:00 pm. Steve Boyles, OSU Extension Beef Specialist will be on-hand to talk about moving and handling livestock and to help demonstrate some of the principles.
Although cattle will be used at this meeting, all livestock owners are invited to attend. The concepts and principles that will be discussed and demonstrated will apply to other livestock species as well. Scott has a group of yearling heifers that we will be working with. We will talk about and hopefully demonstrate low-stress methods of moving a group of cattle, and working a group of cattle, including sorting in a handling system and loading into a trailer. The objective of this meeting is to be a hands-on learning experience. We will demonstrate handling methods that work and methods that don't work.
Some of the livestock handling methods and principles that will be demonstrated and discussed include flight zone, pressure and release, and point of balance. This will be a good meeting for all livestock owners. As animal agriculture is increasingly in the public eye, livestock owners must do all they can to boost and improve public perception of animal agriculture. Learning about and implementing low stress handling and moving practices is a positive step.
Crossbreeding "Revisited" - Dr. Scott P. Greiner, Extension Animal Scientist, VA Tech
As I travel around the Commonwealth (and across the U.S. for that matter), there is renewed enthusiasm for crossbreeding among cow-calf producers. The benefits of crossbreeding systems in the beef sector have been extensively researched over the years, and the practical implications of the benefits of crossbreeding are as relevant and important today as they were 25 years ago. While very little has changed from a science perspective, as an industry we have seemed to "rediscover" crossbreeding. There are likely many contributing factors to this movement, not the least of which is the challenging economic realities of today's beef business. Commercial cow-calf producers are faced with optimizing a number of economically important traits, while simultaneously reducing costs of production in order to remain competitive.
There are numerous benefits to a well-designed crossbreeding system. This article is designed to summarize these benefits into key points which are based on both research and observed results in the field.
Crossbred Cows Make Better Females: The largest single benefit to crossbreeding is realized the in the crossbred cow. In fact, approximately 60% of the total advantage in heterosis (hybrid vigor) in a crossbreeding system can be attributed to the crossbred cow. The large advantage is derived from the reproductive advantages of the crossbred cow. She simply is more apt to rebreed following calving, which results in more longevity (she stays in herd longer since she is not culled for being open). This advantage, coupled with the superior mothering and maternal ability of the crossbred female results in more pounds of calf at weaning per cow exposed. With reproduction being the most economically important performance trait, the merits of maintaining a crossbred cow fully justify implementation of a crossbreeding program. We all understand the concept that open cows are not profitable. Add to this the advantage of the crossbred in longevity, and the crossbred cow has more years to dilute out the costs of developing her as a heifer. Collectively, these differences in reproduction and longevity favorably impact both costs of production as well as production output.
Crossbred Calves Weigh More: For most cow-calf producers selling feeder cattle, net income is derived primarily from calf sales. This net income is a function of number of calves sold, calf weight, and calf value per pound. Crossbreeding impacts the first two of these in a major way. First, crossbred calves exhibit hybrid vigor at birth and through weaning- put another way they are more apt to survive to weaning and be sold. More calves born (see above) and more calves alive equate to more pounds to sell. Along with this, heterosis impacts calf growth favorably resulting in heavier weaning weights than the average of the parental breeds used to form the crossbred.
Crossbreeding Balances Genetics: Crossbreeding provides the ability to take advantage of the strengths of two or more breeds to produce offspring that have optimum levels of performance in several traits. This has become more of a challenge in today's beef industry as we have many new tools and EPDs at our disposal from which to make genetic decisions. No one breed or no one bull within a breed can meet all of our needs. Crossbreeding allows us to capture the strengths of two or more breeds, and match breeds in a complimentary fashion. A simple example is the ability to balance Quality and Yield Grade potential, two classically antagonistic traits. The established superiority of British breeds can be matched with the known advantages in muscling and leanness of Continental breeds to produce calf with a balance of these economically important traits and the ability to meet various market and consumer targets. Similarly, milk production growth, and mature size may be most effectively optimized by crossing two or more breeds. The cumulative effect crossbreeding has when several traits are considered is more important than any one particular trait. Effective crossbreeding programs must be designed to optimize performance, not necessarily maximize it.
Crossbreeding Has Become Simplified: Several advances in technology have made crossbreeding much simpler to apply and sustain, particularly for small cow herds. The availability of hybrid/composite bulls allow for the introduction of hybrid vigor into the calf crop without wide fluctuations in breed type. Technology has allowed for the computation of EPDs on these hybrid bulls, so as an industry we can apply selection practices in same fashion as we use them in purebred seedstock. Similarly, we have DNA genotyping at our disposal to relatively cheaply manage traits such as coat color. Another change which has evolved in Virginia is the availability of commercial crossbred females. There are a significant number of producers which market bred females. These females are crossbred, with built-in maternal heterosis and by purchasing replacement heifers cow-calf producers benefit from a simpler breeding system (terminal sire) and fewer management groups to tend to in their operation (no weaned heifer calves or developing yearling heifers). Lastly, advances in estrus synchronization research has resulted in several protocols which utilized timed-AI breeding. Through AI, the best bulls of any breed are at a producer's disposal for incorporation into their herd.
For more details on crossbreeding and crossbreeding systems, visit the Virginia Tech Extension Beef site at www.vtbeef.apsc.vt.edu
Visit the OSU Beef Team calendar of meetings and upcoming events
BEEF Cattle is a weekly publication of Ohio State University Extension in Fairfield County and the OSU Beef Team. Contributors include members of the Beef Team and other beef cattle specialists and economists from across the U.S.
All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status. Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Admin. and Director, OSU Extension. TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-1868
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