Cattle – handling

Information about handling, training and showing cattle.

Schools that keep cattle must have the use of suitably constructed yards, a race and a crush.

Fences, gateways, gates and all facilities used to handle cattle must be constructed and maintained to reduce the risk of injury.

Students must not use an electric goad or cattle prod on cattle.

If a dog is used with cattle, then it must be under control of the teacher, farm assistant or person in charge of the activity, at all times.

Working with cattle

Approved activities Category
Observation of animal behaviour 1
Observation of particular animal behaviours, e.g. oestrus, parturition 2

As cattle are a species that are preyed upon they tend to stay together in herds, seeking comfort and protection. This means that individuals become stressed, and may be dangerous when they are isolated from the herd. Always try to avoid getting between an isolated animal and the rest of the herd. An individual that breaks from the mob will soon feel vulnerable and generally return.

Because of their vision and their nature sudden movements tend to startle them. This includes flapping materials and wind blown papers. Such things will cause animals to baulk or change direction and so care should be taken to remove such objects from yards and races.

Cattle follow the leader and are motivated to maintain visual contact with each other.

As cattle also have a blind spot directly behind them, entering this blind spot too quickly or unannounced may cause the animal to kick. An animal with a very small or no flight zone should be handled by placing a hand on its shoulder and moving around it while talking to it quietly.

Caution should be exercised with cows that have recently calved as even the quietest cow can become highly aroused and protective of its newborn calf.

Cattle want to see who or what is pressuring them. Thus standing in the animals’ blind spot for too long can cause them to stop and turn to face the handler. This stops movement.

The flight zones of animals can be reduced by consistent calm handling with time spent walking through the mob or by training.

Because of their flight zones and the fact that they need to focus on the handler with two eyes to accurately estimate distance, cattle tend to move around a handler in a circular motion or through a gateway in a curve. The means that the position of the handler is important when drafting or moving cattle through gateways.

Four principles that are important when working with cattle.

  1. Position. The position of the handler in relation to the eye of the cattle is extremely important. This means that the handler should always work animals on the side.
  2. Pressure. Whatever pressure is applied must be released. This translates into moving towards the animal then moving away, stopping the movement of the livestock talker and reducing the number of people in the yards.
  3. Movement. This can be increasing or decreasing the movement of the handler’s body or livestock talker. Jumping, waving or using a livestock talker are all acceptable and effective ways of increasing movement. Sticks, flags and livestock talkers should be used as extensions of the handler’s body. They should not be used as a tool to hit animals with.
  4. Communication. It is essential that the handler communicates clearly to the cattle and to the other handlers.

The way that cattle behave during handling is a result of:

  • the amount of handling they have had
  • the quality of that handling
  • their genetics.

Mustering, drafting, capture and handling of cattle

Approved activities Category
Mustering, drafting (in crush or head bail), capture, restraint and handling of non-free-living domesticated animals (leading or riding an appropriately trained animal). 3
Familiarisation 2

Best practice mustering and handling starts with good preparation. This involves setting up gates to allow flow and movement but always aiming to have control of the cattle movement. This requires a balance between having gates open and/or closed at the chosen points.

It is essential that livestock handlers maintain good communication between each other and that all facilities and equipment that will be needed for the job are prepared and in good working order.

The time spent mustering and working livestock provides an invaluable opportunity to observe their general health status. These principles are further explained in Preparation for mustering.

Mustering involves gathering up individual animals and groups of animals and bringing them together. It is important that cattle walk not run when being mustered. Cattle that run to yards end up being agitated and need to be rested before they can be worked again.

Using cattle’s natural herd instinct makes the job of mustering more efficient and safer for humans and animals. Mustering cattle demonstrates the principles of efficient mustering.

A mob of cattle has structure and dynamics. Some animals are leaders and they are out in front, helping to direct the mob. Other animals are potential leaders and move just behind the leaders. If the leader individuals are drafted into another mob then the potential leaders will take over the leader role. The most insecure animals are in the centre of the herd or mob, where there is the least amount of pressure. The majority of the mob or herd are the followers, looking to the leaders for direction and stability.

Movement is maintained by the handler moving in a zig zag pattern behind the mob. It is important that the handler moves far enough out to the side so that they come into the field of vision of the leaders.

The same principles apply to working cattle in the yards as in the paddock. Information about yard design can be found at Cattle yards and equipment.

The position of the handler in yards is extremely important if drafting and moving cattle into the race and crush is to be achieved with minimal stress. Livestock tend to curve around the handler to avoid pressure, to maintain the handler in their field of vision for as long as possible and to avoid having the handler in their blind spot.

Parallel movement can be used to draft animals from pen to pen, to count animals and to move animals along a race. Moving along the race in the opposite direction to the desired direction of movement of the cattle, will move the animals forward. This is often referred to as using parallel movement.

Safety in the yards demonstrates working animals in yards and some of the techniques that increase the safety of the handler.

Using parallel movement and understanding that cattle tend to curve around the handler can maximise efficiency in drafting and moving cattle through the yards.

Moving cattle in the yards demonstrates parallel movement, the use of livestock talkers and how yelling and excessive noise can be substituted by informed and skilled behaviour of the handlers.

Temple Grandin provides further information in her article, Low stress methods for moving and herding cattle on pastures, paddocks and large feedlot pens.

Sometimes assistance to move cattle can be gained by the use of dogs, livestock talkers and goads. These are tools and rely on correct usage by the handler. Their correct usage can be seen in Handling aids for moving livestock.

During dry weather sprinklers or misters should be used in yards to settle the dust.

Cattle have great memories and poor handling will create ongoing problems. A summary of these handling techniques can be seen in Best practice cattle handling.

Training animals

Cattle should be trained to help make working with them more efficient and safer for them and the handlers. Training cattle is typically used for better outcomes in a variety of situations and for different purposes. These include:

  • For yard and race work
  • For showing and preparation
  • Transportation
  • Movement between paddocks and facilities
  • Routine husbandry procedures.

Routines are extremely important when training animals. Older, well trained animals can be used to guide younger or newly acquired animals into good habits and help reduce the time taken in training.

Showing cattle

Approved activities Category
Familiarisation 2
Training/gentling 3
Training for competition or showing 3
Tethering/restraining for shows 3
Coat care and grooming 2
Coat clipping 3
Putting nose clip onto cattle 2
Nose ringing 5
Loading and unloading animals onto transporters 3
Showing animals at school and away 3

Time and effort needs to be put into training animals for the show ring. Training is best done slowly from a young age. Cattle suitable for showing need to be specially selected based on their temperament as well as their conformation.

In the school situation, the work usually required in training an animal for leading and showing is generally considered as taming and gentling, rather than breaking-in. It is preferable if animals used in the school situation do not require breaking-in.

Cattle need to be introduced to the halter slowly once they are accustomed to the atmosphere naturally created by groups of students. Appropriate procedures for many of the activities involved in show preparation can be seen at the following:

Cattle handling – haltering

Cattle handling - clipping

Cattle handling - washing

Cattle handling - grooming

Cattle handling - blow drying



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