Health benefits of low-stress handling

 Resize text         Printer-friendly version of this article Printer-friendly version of this article

Minimizing stress on calves arriving in the feedyard can offer multiple benefits, potentially including reducing sickness and improve feeding margins. Iowa State University Extension Veterinarian Grant Dewell, DVM, MS, PhD, discussed those advantages while presenting results of a recent ISU feeding trial comparing conventional receiving practices with a low-stress system.

The researchers shipped 136 freshly weaned calves from western Nebraska to an Iowa feedlot and randomly sorted them into four pen groups.

Two of the groups received a conventional regimen the day after arrival. They were processed through a solid-sided alley and tub, receiving ear tags, vaccinations and implants, and moved to their home pens.

The other two groups were allowed to acclimate for two days prior to processing, with caretakers working them using low-stress methods. They were processed the third day using a “Bud Box” corral and open-sided alley. They received the same treatments – ear tags, vaccinations and implants – as the conventional group. Crew members continued to work the calves in their pens using low-stress techniques for four days following processing.

Over the feeding period, 18.8 percent of the conventional group required treatment for respiratory disease, compared with 7.4 percent for the low-stress group.

Average daily gains were slightly higher for the low-stress group and their hot carcass weights averaged 757 pounds compared with 728 pounds for the conventional group.

Visual observations of the cattle indicated the low-stress groups spent more time loafing near the feedbunks rather than milling around.

Dewell acknowledged the study’s small size and other issues suggest need for further study. The researchers were concerned, for example that close proximity of low-stress and conventional pens, and a lack of “blinding” of the treatment groups could have affected results. One of the conventional pens, with 29.4 percent morbidity, accounted for much of the difference in morbidity between the two treatment groups, although daily gains and hot carcass weights in that pen were similar to those in the other conventional pen.

Comments (2) Leave a comment 

e-Mail (required)


characters left

Jenny Cavaliere    
Oregon House, CA  |  August, 06, 2013 at 10:37 AM

I am a total believer in low stress handling of cattle. My friend, Greg Harris DVM said "I would never had believed that I would not need a prod again when I am working your Oregon House Farms Angus cattle. When we work cattle, I tell the guys, please plan to have the day available. There is patience and care when getting new calves through an alley and chute and loaded into a trailer. Please visit my webpage- The home page references my philosophy on stockmanship and gentle handling of cattle.

Joe Maddox    
west Texas  |  August, 06, 2013 at 02:51 PM

I also am a total believer in low stress handling of livestock and have been since the 1980s when Bud Williams introduced the concept to the world--I am glad to see some vets starting to grab on to something very special and needed in all livestock operations!--People will be able see a big difference in their animals' behavior and their bottom line after practicing this concept for only a short time. I've also heard it cuts down on people stress!