Paisley discusses cattle management strategies for working with calm animalsWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Extension Beef Cattle Specialist Steve Paisley with the University of Wyoming is also a Wyoming state coordinator for Beef Quality Assurance (BQA), a national program invested in improving management techniques in the beef industry.
“Three things that I preach when I am talking to people who are new to the industry or just learning the ropes are understanding the flight zone, the concept of applying pressure and then releasing it and understanding the point of balance,” he says.
Flight zone refers to the space around an animal in which it addresses a person.
“We recognize this by walking toward the animal,” he explains. “When it turns to look at us, it is addressing us and that means we are in the flight zone.”
Walking further into the flight zone applies pressure to the animal.
“When the animal begins to move away, we back up and relieve the pressure,” Paisley continues.
This creates a reward scenario in which the animal’s correct response, moving the requested direction, is rewarded by reduced pressure from the person.
“The idea of the point of balance is how we work an animal in the correct direction based on its point of shoulder,” he comments, indicating that a proper balance is necessary when applying pressure in the flight zone.
Understanding how the cattle perceive a situation makes it easier to move them calmly, quietly and slowly.
“The use of electric prods is highly discouraged,” he says.
If prods are used, they should never be applied to sensitive areas of the animal.
“Also, holding pens should be designed to hold the maximum number of cattle that will be worked at one time,” he comments.
Handlers should assess how many cattle can be successfully managed.
“We only fill a bathtub so full. We don’t overfill it,” Paisley explains.
Another step that can be taken to work cattle smoothly is assessing working areas before cattle are brought through and looking for the little things that will cause cattle to stop, startle or back up.
“Little things like the angle of something or shading and shadows that are cast make a big difference when we are working cattle,” he continues.
Working cattle on his own ranch, Paisley and his family often walk through the alleyways with a hammer before bringing animals in, pounding in any lose nails to prevent injury.
“My kids always grimace because it takes an extra 15 minutes,” he says, noting that it is still an important task.
Although he works with animals every day between his own ranch and the university, Paisley still comes across cows that are difficult to manage.
“Lightning is the name of a cow that is perfectly fine 90 percent of the time,” he comments. “Ten percent of the time, we walk into the pen, and she goes berserk. I don’t know what instigates it.”
Animals like these have initiated research into the temperament and docility in cattle.
“Temperament is essentially the animal’s response to being handled,” he says.
Assigning a temperament score can be used as a selection tool to build a herd of calmer cattle.
“A lot of data shows that cattle with low docility and cattle that get excited easily are more easily stressed, have an increased risk of injury, reduced growth rates, reduced feed intakes and lower quality grades,” he comments.
These animals have tougher meat and less carcass trim due to bruising.
“The Beef Improvement Federation (BIF) has standards for measuring docility, and we use a chute docility score,” he notes.
Animals are ranked on a scale from one to six, with a one indicating an animal that isn’t bothered being pushed through the chutes.
“We don’t see a six very often,” Paisley states. “A six is an animal that goes berserk in the chute and essentially jumps the fence as soon as it can.”
Another score that Paisley uses is something that he calls a PIN score, which involves working with all of the cattle individually.
“We work the cattle down an alleyway, peel them off individually, make them address us and walk calmly by,” he explains.
Based on the number of times it takes for an animal to respond well to the exercise, it receives a score from one to five, with one being assigned to the calmest cattle and five being assigned to the wilder ones.
“Doing that two or three times with every set of cattle we receive makes a huge difference,” he states, noting that the animals become easier to handle after the exercise.
“We are a lot better off if we get them calm and docile,” says Paisley. “Otherwise, we do a lot of fence-fixing.”
Steve Paisley spoke at Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days in Riverton on Feb. 12.