When raising livestock, even the most gentle cows may unintentionally cause injury to a handler. In fact, the National Agricultural Safety Database statistics show that one in three farm worker injuries involve handling animals. Many of these injuries include broken bones and crushed limbs that lead to missed days of work and unnecessary medical expenses due to a lack of safety awareness. That’s why an understanding of animal behavior is essential to prevent accidents.
“Handlers must be aware of how animals react in different situations,” said Dr. Roger Winter, technical services veterinarian, AgriLabs. “Cattle are extremely sensitive to loud noises, shadows or too much pressure, and this kicks in their ‘fight or flight’ reaction. In turn, this could lead to a potentially dangerous predicament.”
Understanding the flight zone
The flight zone is one of the most important principles regarding cattle behavior and safe handling. It can be thought of as a circle around an animal, or in essence, the animal’s personal space. The radius of this circle is the distance at which an animal will move away from a “predator” that comes too close.
The flight zone varies with each animal, depending on its previous life experiences or perhaps just not recognizing a shape or movement of the “predator”. Cattle that have never seen a human before may have a very large flight zone. While cattle more familiar with people, depending on how they are approached whether on foot, RTV, truck or horse, will be more comfortable and have a very small flight zone. In both extremes, whether it is a large or small flight zone, it can lead to dangerous situations when it comes to trying to move cattle from one location to another.
“In fact, when producers are working cattle, a lack of patience leads to pushing cattle too hard or too fast,” said Winter. “Animals then experience a feeling of slight anxiety (which is the goal) and then react with fear. At this point, their ‘flight’ reaction kicks in, causing them to run and crash into fences, gates or vehicles. Cattle then can sustain bruises, broken legs, foot injuries, or lacerations, and when humans are in the wrong location when this occurs, they can be injured as well.”
Ways to enhance safety
It’s best to remember that animals don’t think the way we do. Learning a few basic tips can help to reduce the chance of injuries to people and livestock, and will help improve handling skills, whether cattle are being gathered from the pasture or processed. Some safety tips include:
- Know your animals — Learn how cattle think. Cattle are prey animals and as such, are constantly on the lookout for predators, whether that be wolves or people. Understanding how cattle react and behave is key to ensuring safety.
- Get acclimated — Injuries to cattle and people can be minimized by taking the time to let them get use to their surroundings and movements of the people working around them.
- Appropriate application of pressure — If producers spend a little time slowly walking at a distance from their animals without causing them too much anxiety, their livestock will eventually realize they are not a threat. In time, the producer can move in a little closer and as the flight zone is approached, the animals will begin to move away. This concept, when used properly, will allow the producer to apply and release pressure at appropriately times and positions to gently move animals with limited excitement.
“When producers learn to utilize these techniques effectively, everyone benefits,” said Winter. “This means fewer injuries for everyone involved and better performance for the cattle due to a lower-stress environment.”
Effective horn fly control; less disruption for cattle
Building upon the safety and low-stress aspect, AgriLabs has an innovative approach to control horn flies and lice on cattle called the VetGun™ which requires no confining or handling.
The VetGun is a precision-engineered remote delivery device powered with CO2 to project a precise dosage of an insecticide-filled gel capsule known as AiM-L™ VetCaps™. Upon impact, the VetCap bursts on the animal, releasing its contents to treat the animal.
The entire process is completed quickly and with far less disruption or stress than any conventional process that requires cattle to be gathered, yarded or run through a chute. Essentially, it improves the overall welfare by making the process safer for both cattle and ranchers.
“While everyone handles livestock a little differently, it’s all about using common sense and good judgment,” said Winter. “It’s a plus when producers also understand animal behavior, which in turn can increase their level of safety when handling livestock.”