Communicating with frightened cattle

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Cattle that have been involved in a livestock hauling accident can have some of the same issues as humans in that situation – fright, confusion and disorientation. Cattle handling expert Tom Noffsginger, DVM, Benkelman, Neb., says the first order of business is to step back and take care of the people who might be involved in the accident. Noffsinger spoke last week at an emergency preparedness seminar preceding the 2nd International Symposium on Beef Cattle Welfare at Kansas State University.

Next, Noffsinger gave some tips on dealing with loose and frightened cattle in a situation of a livestock trailer accident:

  • Have one person approach the cattle vs. many. “Cattle have a hard time processing all of that. If you have a team, stand closer together as you approach.”
  • The herd mentality is that there is safety in numbers. Let them congregate together and don’t try to separate them.
  • Confinement is threatening. “If you can give them a little freedom to flee and don’t just try to box them in, they will just stay at a certain distance from you,” he notes.
  • Respect what cattle can see. A bovine’s field of vision goes just about completely around them, but they have little depth perception. “Never stand still in front of a group of cattle,” says Noffsinger. “They can’t see you. Use motion so they know where you are.”
  • Cattle can’t look up well. To do so they must lift their chin which stops their front feet from moving.
  • Take their focus away from the noise, stress and confusion during an accident by letting them focus on a handler.
  • Always walk in straight lines when handling cattle. “Wolves circle,” Noffsinger says. “Try not to act like a predator.”
  • Pressuring the animals in the back to force the animals in the front to move isn’t fair, Noffsinger says. “You need to encourage the lead animals to move and the others will follow.”
  • To regulate the speed of cattle, walk beside them slow them down. To speed them, walk parallel to them in the opposite direction.
  • Cattle are not verbally based, so yelling can create fear. “Take the human voice out of it,” Noffsinger adds. He encourages first responders to eliminate yelling and whistling.

“Cattle need to see what is pressuring them and where they need to go,” Noffsinger states. “Communicate by observing, be visible to them and don’t yell in these and other handling situations.”



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