Low Stress Cattle Handling Secrets

Tips for low-stress livestock handling, plus an inside look at a new squeeze chute that might be helpful.

article image
by Adobestock/Clint Austin

I’ve recently been reading through Humane Livestock Handling by Temple Grandin to better understand and move my growing herd of cattle. I’m learning that low stress cattle handling is the key to better profits and less risk around my herd as my staff and I get older and a little slower!

It has become a topic of discussion within my community.

Here are a few low stress cattle handling highlights:

  • The position of a cattle’s front hooves will indicate the direction they are most likely to go. For example, if their right front hoof is back then the cow is most likely wanting to go back that way. So you can change their direction by how you position their front feet. This also drives home the point that it’s important to keep your eye on the cattle and they will tell you where you need to be to move them.
  • Before trying to get close to a cow, you want to make sure the cow calms down. Each cow feels differently about how comfortable it is with your proximity. You can get your cow to move and react based on your position to the cow. See this video on low stress cattle handling.
  • Cows are a natural prey, so make sure you don’t act like a predator by being aggressive around them. Respect them, and they will soon become OK with your presence. Then you can better handle the cow without stress on the cattle or more work for you.
  • When driving the cattle from the rear, use a zigzag technique.
  • Use white, translucent skylights and quieter equipment to keep cattle calm. Remember that a cow’s first time in a squeeze chute needs to be low stress or else they will hate the squeeze chute in the future.

Cow Chute

Since we’re on the topic of low-stress livestock handling, particularly when the cow is in a squeeze chute, I wanted to share some insider knowledge on a new squeeze chute being tested.

I currently have a manual squeeze chute that I bought used several years ago. While it’s a good squeeze chute, I do sometimes have issues getting access to the cow’s neck. I heard this was a common issue among squeeze chutes. Some catches are too narrow, some are positioned in an awkward way, and others don’t exist at all, forcing us to use side access gates to get here. Not really healthy for me or the cattle.

I was on the phone with a buddy last week who is a rancher in Alberta, and I asked if he had any ideas of how to make neck access easier. Turns out he has been testing a new cattle squeeze chute that solves my problem. I asked him where he got it, but all he could tell me is it’s built by Arrowquip.

He wasn’t able to give me many details since it hasn’t been released yet … but he did send me some photos.

The squeeze chute I have now allows for about a 6.5″ branding area. Looking at the image, I bet that the size is easily double on the new one.

From what I could prod out of him, it’s also fully removeable, allowing us to remove a bar at the top or make the area completely open by removing the entire bottom panel. He didn’t say how it all works, but it sure looks like an upgrade.

Here is a photo of the new cattle squeeze chute he sent over.

He mentioned he was testing a new rubber floor that doesn’t buckle, an overhaul of the head holder, and an anti-swing latch on their vet cage, too. For those interested in quiet operation, he said it was by far the quietest squeeze chute he’s used in the last 20 years.

Many of these improvements will help lower our livestock’s stress levels and make it easier for ranchers to handle cattle in squeeze chutes.

Gardening and writing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, James White plans to focus his blogs on healthy and sustainable living, with a bit on home improvements and construction thrown in for good measure. Contact James through his personal blog, Homey Improvements, or via Twitter.