An early start with calm animal handling will pay off with less stress on cattle, and their handlers, through later events such as weaning and shipping.
Veterinarians who work with multiple clients see the contrasts: Cattle on some operations are simply easier to handle than on some others. And the consequences of that variation probably extend beyond the time investment in processing activities, with low-stress herds experiencing better health and performance than those in more stressful environments.
Veterinarians, says North Dakota State University associate professor Jerry Stokka, DVM, MS, are ideally positioned to help clients and their crews improve stockmanship practices and animal stewardship. They can serve as objective outside resources to help ranchers evaluate their facilities and practices, and work toward more positive interactions with their cattle.
Limiting or reducing stress on animals brings multiple performance, health and welfare benefits, Stokka notes, and veterinarians are well equipped to address stressors that can be managed. He also points out the industry increasingly faces public scrutiny on animal-welfare issues, creating a need for better communication and transparency to maintain consumer trust. Demonstrating good animal husbandry will help protect that trust. Outright abuse, of course, cannot be tolerated. Handling practices that inadvertently create stress within the herd, however, can be corrected through training and education.
Any production tasks in which the veterinarian is involved, from preconditioning to artificial insemination to pregchecking, offer an opportunity to observe how the cattle and their handlers behave, says Nebraska practitioner Tom Noffsinger, DVM. From those observations, the veterinarian can identify opportunities for improvement.
Noffsinger has dedicated much of his time in recent years to teaching stockmanship practices to producers after working in partnership with the late Bud Williams, who is widely credited with developing the low-stress animal-handling methods in practice today. Stockmanship and animal handling, he says, provide an opportunity for veterinarians to put themselves in a strong position as information sources and service providers.
Lynn Locatelli, DVM, who runs a practice out of New Mexico, agrees, saying veterinarians can help producers understand what is possible. Livestock producers generally are located in geographically isolated, sparsely populated areas, she says. “They develop their own concepts of normal.