Ruminate with a Purpose
By Lindsay King
Cattle handling is a seemingly mundane lesson to learn, but the wise know it is the most important of all in a production setting. Tom Noffsinger, veterinarian for Production Animal Consultation (PAC), begged the question “why not make the cattle work for you?” in his cattle handling workshop during Angus University sponsored by Merck Animal Health at Angus Convention Nov. 3-5, 2018 in Columbus, Ohio.
“I spent the first 35 years of my vet career on the wrong end of the cow,” Noffsinger said. “I got things done but I did not feel good about myself. I was hoarse and my family had already gone in the house.”
Noffsinger quoted Ghandi in reference to the cattle industry: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
As producers, Noffsinger said their responsibility to cattle is to provide the five freedoms: freedom from thirst and hunger; freedom from discomfort; freedom from disease and injury; freedom from behavioral interaction restrictions; and freedom from anxiety, fear and distress.
“Unless you can remove all fear and anxiety from cattle when they arrive, it is almost impossible to provide the other freedoms,” Noffsinger explained. “We need to remodel our attitudes about cattle handling and realize what is possible.”
Variation in health and performance is a direct reflection of human interaction. Terrorized animals, intentional or not, simply do not perform well.
Cattle handling is the basis, or demise, of all success in the cattle industry. Noffsinger showed various examples of how quiet handling, working off the point of the eye instead of the shoulder, pays huge dividends.
“When we work with these animals the focus turns to quality, not speed,” Noffsinger continued. “Understanding cattle behavior and sensory characteristics improves handling outcomes, even in undesirable facilities.”
When entering a new pen of cattle, Noffsinger suggested cattlemen look over the top of the group rather than directly at the closest animals. If an animal raises its nose in the air, you know you have too much presence in the pen.
“The point of balance on cattle is the shoulder, but if you are not visible to their eye then you are in the wrong place. The eye is the receiver,” Noffsinger continued. “If you are working from her shoulder, you are pulling her head around. You need her body to be straight.”
Working off the left side of the animal optimizes a positive response since it connects directly to the right side of the brain. This is side of the brain does most of the thinking, while the left side of the brain houses the fight or flight response.
“Cattle should go places because they want to, not because they have to,” Noffsinger said. “By nature, cattle are followers. We have to get them to trust us.”
Part of working with cattle’s natural tendencies is to acclimate them to a chute. Noffsinger tells all his veterinary students to make sure heifer producers requesting brucellosis vaccinations have taken their animals through the chutes at least once.
“We are not talking about making gentle cattle. Please don’t take the movement out of your cattle,” Noffsinger pleaded. “Reward the stop though. When cattle stop and lick their lips, it means they are learning.”
Anytime the cattle go where intended, it’s a good time to reward that progression by stepping away from them.
“Her mind has to go before her body. There is no pushing on one when her mind has stopped,” Noffsinger said. “Being able to take an animal where they are hesitant is really positive. They never forget, but they always forgive.”