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How to properly handle cattle and other farm animals

Quick Facts

  • Stockmanship is the art and science of properly handling cattle or other farm animals.
  • It involves knowledge and skill to handle animals in a positive and safe manner.
  • For the most positive experience for everyone involved stay calm, quiet and avoid quick movements while handling cows.
  • By using good stockmanship practices you can improve cow comfort, provide safety for people and cows, and improve your bottom line.

Moving Cows

  • The most important aspect of moving cows is to remain calm and quiet.
  • Yelling, loud noises, and fast movements are very stressful for cows.
  • Calm cows are easier to move and it's safer for people and other animals when cows are not agitated or excited.
  • Scared cows move in hurried and unpredictable ways. If they are moving quickly on wet or uneven surfaces, cows and handlers can slip, fall and be injured.
  • When moving a cow, be aware of where you are standing in relation to the cow.

Cow point of balance, pressure or flight zone and blind spot

The point of balance on a cow is the shoulder.

  • To move the cow forward, position yourself behind her point of balance and move slowly at a 45 to 60 degree angle from the cow's shoulder. This allows you to stay in the her line of vision while moving her to where you want her to go.
  • To move the cow backwards, move in front of the cow's shoulder or point of balance. She will either back up or turn around to move in the desired direction.  

The pressure or flight zone is the cow’s personal space.

  • The size of a cow’s pressure or flight zone will vary depending upon how tame or calm the cow is.
  • The pressure and flight zones get bigger if the cow becomes excited or if you approach the cow head on.
  • If you are in a cow’s pressure zone she will turn, look at you and maintain a safe distance.
  • When you enter her flight zone she will turn and move away from you.

Cows have a blind spot directly behind them.

If you approach cows from their blind spot they may become easily excited and take off or kick at you.

Keeping your cows calm

Calm and low stress cows often produce more milk and, as a result, improve your bottom line.

  • Calm cows are able to let their milk down in a more efficient manner.
  • Keep cows calm. Don't yelled at them, chase them or lead them into buildings, such as a parlor, with loud noises from music or machinery.

First calf fresh heifers can be difficult to move the first time they go for milking.

  • They can become scared because they have not been in the barn or through the parlor.
  • They don't know what to do or where to go.
  • Set them up for success.
    • Streamline them right into the parlor and don't keep them in the holding pen too long.
    • Stay calm, maintain your point of balance positions, and move them to where you want them to go.

Practice good stockmanship

Train your employees or anyone working with your cows on proper animal handling techniques. Practicing good stockmanship  will ensure a positive experience for both human and bovine and will benefit your farm as a whole.

Brenda Miller, Extension educator

Reviewed in 2019

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