As a rancher, often your time and the health and safety of your cattle, including your cattle handling practices, are top priorities. Cattle chutes and equipment help make livestock management easier, faster and safer for both animals and handlers once you both have the chance to get familiar with it.
One crucial part of low-stress cattle handling that you might not have considered before is acclimation. When cattle aren’t stressed, they often have stronger immune systems, increased reproductive health and maintain a healthier weight, which creates cattle that are easier to work with, saving you time. Over time, this also improves the economic viability of your ranch or operation. Taking the time to acclimate your cattle by running them through your system before you work them should be a regular management practice.
Many ranchers have experienced issues with chute shyness, and it can tend to be more of an issue with cattle that have been worked through a self-catch headgate. One negative experience where they hit the headgate too hard and get bruised and pull back, refusing to hit the gate again, can create an animal that is difficult to work for the rest of its life.
Cattle are smart animals and remember negative experiences for a long time. Their memories are also specific, which is why proper cattle handling is important for the success of your operation. Even a slight change such as adding a scale platform to your cattle handling system will be viewed as completely new by your cattle and will catch them off guard if they’re not prepared for it.
Cattle are naturally inquisitive and will also find new things attractive when given time to explore it, versus scary when they are suddenly introduced to them. If handlers can convince cattle that a movement was their idea, such as walking into a squeeze chute, it reduces stress on them and the cattle, while cultivating a trusting relationship.
Like most animals, cattle work best when they are ready, not when they’re forced. Unfortunately, many of today’s cattle owners are short on time and help, and consequently, don’t spend time acclimating cattle to anything new in their working system. It is a process that will pay for itself — for those who choose to spend the time.
Working cattle through your system a few times without catching them in the headgate allows them to learn the flow of the system they’re moving through. With time and a little patience, this will make processing smoother and more efficient when you go to work your cattle through the chute while using the headgate.
When cattle are also acclimated to a system in a low-stress environment by people who practice proper handling techniques and understand why acclimation is important, they’re set up for continued success. For acclimation to work, appropriate facilities for cattle handling are also a crucial part of the equation.
Your equipment should work with cattle psychology and minimize the risk of negative experiences. Innovative technology such as rubber squeeze chute floors that prevent slipping and quiet chutes that minimize noise will make acclimation easier and any procedures as well.
Correct acclimation also allows the group or herd leader time to look at the new situation and then slowly move through the equipment, with the rest of the group or herd following. Well-designed cattle equipment uses the principles of animal science to allow for following behavior and creates a low-stress environment. Cattle acclimated to low-stress handling can also be worked in sheeted side equipment with vision slots with great success.
Acclimation of cattle can improve productivity and welfare through reduced fear and stress. If possible, calves should be acclimated while young by walking them carefully through the system. Keep in mind that any new mature cattle might need more time to acclimate to a system, possibly because of prior negative experiences. It is imperative that the first experience with new people, places, or equipment is positive for cattle.
Proper training for all handlers working with your cattle is also essential and should be reviewed regularly. If only a few of the handlers working with your cattle are using recommended handling techniques, all that hard work and dedication can be undone by one handler using different techniques. Stockmanship skills that create a positive experience for cattle during acclimation and procedures improve the welfare of cattle, the efficiency of your operation and uphold the standards of the beef cattle industry.
Experts recommend working your cattle through your system a few days in a row to acclimate them properly. The process should be repeated when you first bring cattle to the ranch or make any changes or upgrades to your handling system.
If you’re in the market for cattle equipment or a cattle handling system that works with cattle’s instincts and makes acclimating them as easy as possible, check out Arrowquip equipment for safer, easier, and more efficient cattle handling.