I really enjoy working with cattle. Getting cattle to move through yards, or into new paddocks does take some skill. I firmly believe there is no such thing as a born animal handler. I reckon the skills you need to work with animals are developed, like any skill, through practice, observation and continually trying to do better.
What I think some people may be born with is a higher degree of patience, as they develop their skills. I think some people are also more empathetic to cattle or animals, and are willing to work with the animals, trying to understand the animals movements and directing them in the desired direction. It is important to be patient and to understand the animals you are working with.
Being patient doesn't mean your work has to slow down to a crawl! Patient in my mind means taking a mental breath and thinking through what you are trying to achieve with the animals you are working with. It means responding to their actions and anticipating what the animals are likely to do or want to do in response to you, to other people or to their environment.
I reckon its also a bit of self awareness. Are you actually prepared to take some time, a few breathes to think about things. To consider the impact your actions might have, and to learn from mistakes or from the past.
Some people just don't seem to be willing to be patient. And this has created so many issues for them, for their cattle and for the people around them.
If you really want to develop better skills in working with cattle it takes patience, understanding and practice. I've talked about patience. So what about understanding?
There are some basic things to understood with cattle. Firstly cattle are prey animals. Which means they are used to running away from danger. They need to be with others, so they can all look for danger, and if they can't get away from the danger, then they will use their size and speed to attack the predator.
Its not rocket science! We all know that, and everyone wants to talk about flight zones. The area between an animal and a source of danger or threat. Some animals have a bigger zone than others.
Its pretty clear what happens when you step into that zone. The animal either moves away or does its best to get away.
But some animals will react differently. There may be past history or circumstances that cause that animal to take on the source of threat. It could be a cow with a new calf. A bull with some cows in a mob. Or it could be a cow kept in a pen on its own and it is so frightened that everything is a threat.
In the last few months I've heard of two people in NSW seriously injured by bulls. Now I'm not sure what the circumstances are for both of those incidents, and I reckon its not for me to make an assumption. What I will say is that often injuries occur when people switch off to their cattle.
When I say switch off, its not paying attention to what the animals are doing in response to you. Maybe you switch off because you take things for granted. Maybe its because you assume your skills are excellent! Maybe you haven't even switched on because you don't think about the animals as much as you should. What ever the reason. All I know is that you shouldn't switch off.
If you are using the animals responses, moving in and out of their flight zone in order to direct them to another place, then changes are you are switched on to the cattle and you can react to animals that might not want to move away and instead want to take you one! On the other hand if your approach is to push, shout and intimidate your animals, being unaware of how they perceive you as you force them into complying with you, then one day you could find yourself in a dangerous or unpleasant situation.
So next time you're out with your cattle, try and be more switched on. Be a little patient and think about your skills and the animals reactions to you. That mental pause for a breath might be enough to turn your cattle chore into a good day out for you, your cattle and for everyone else!
How familiar are you with your obligations to ensure animals are transported safely and appropriately? Its an interesting questions to ask producers or livestock agents. Sometimes the response I get to that question is a blank look or even a comment that its up to the truckie! In actual fact, anyone responsible for the care and management of livestock has an obligation to know the current standards and adhere to them.
Its called the chain of obligation, and it starts with the owner of the animal and ends with the final receiver of the livestock. Anyone along the way, be it the agent, truck driver, staff at the sale yard, feedlot, depot or processor is included in the chain. So its important you make yourself familiar with the current national standards.
The current Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for the Land Transport of Livestock are the basis for a national consistent framework regarding standards and responsibilities associated with ensuring welfare of animals is maintained.
The national standards and guidelines cover alpacas; buffalo; camels, cattle, deer, emu, goats, horses, poultry, pigs, ostriches and sheep.
There are general guidelines that apply to all animals. Having read through these standards, I reckon they provide a logical progression for anyone who will be responsible for transporting animals.
The general standards include recommendations for:
Responsibilities & planning
Stock Handling competency
Transport vehicles and facilities for livestock
Pre transport selection of livestock
Loading, transporting and unloading livestock
Each of these points addresses important considerations for every person who is responsible for the animal.
This includes questions such as; are the animals fit to load? There are useful pointers for the suppliers of animals selecting animals and assembling them for transport as well as identifying the responsibilities for sac section of the chain of responsibility.
As well as these general standards, the document addresses the specific requirements for transporting animals of each species. These standards cover important issues such as loading densities; transportation of pregnant animals; suitability of vehicles for different species and tim of feed or water.
Transporting animals is something that everyone involved in agriculture will have to do at some stage to other.
Having the national standards in place means we re all working to the same standard and working to consistently achieve the best welfare standards for our animals.
I reckon its definitely essential you download a copy of the standard and become familiar with its standards and recommendations.
I reckon there can be no doubt that handling cattle is a skill. Whether its mustering in extensive paddocks, moving them through the yards or undertaking routine husbandry, all producers need to handle their cattle at some point. While every producer may have to handle their cattle, there is a huge variation in the handling skills producers possess.
One of the big misconceptions I run across is producers who think they were born with stock handling skills or that these skills will just develop because they live on a farm.
I reckon the truth is, like any skill, safe handling skills are a result of education, knowledge and practice.
So how much time do you put into your handling skills? Have you done any training, or at the very least thought about how your actions cause your animals to respond to you? Do you think much about how your stock behave and try to modify your actions to work with their natural behaviour patterns?
One of the best things I have done in my career was to have participated in a stock handling school. The two days I spent encouraged me to reconsider the way stock behave, and the ways my actions cause them to respond.
Some of the things I learnt weren't new. There were some ideas and actions I was used to using. But there were plenty of new things I picked up.
Building your skills is one thing. Maintaining your skills takes practice and requires commitment. In our business I reckon we need to spend more time working on our skills and recognise that we don't always know it all!
There are some simple principles which underpin good stock handling skills. The first is to have patience. The second is to have a sense of humour. And third is to remain alert and respond positively to the animals. If you can do that, the animals will respond positively to you. Essentially, good stock handling skill is about having the right attitude and the right skills.
If you're not too sure about your skills, ask yourself these questions.
- Can you identify the flight zone for the group of animals you're working with?
- Can you pick the lead animal?
- Can you get the mob to move without making a lot of noise or by physically touching those animals?
- Do you know where you should be standing or riding to get the mob to stop or slow down?
These are just a few questions which you could use to check on the state of your stock handling skills. If you weren't too sure about them, I reckon its not a bad idea to think about a stock handling course.
Even if you could answer those questions easily, I still think its not a bad idea to do some skills development. Consider it refresher training, but I reckon you will have a similar experience to me. And that is, you will be challenged, excited and enthused about your skills and how much you will enjoy working with your stock.
If you'd like to arrange for some training or skills maintenance in stock handling, feel free to get in touch with me, and we can arrange some training for you and your team.
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