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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.
  • Stay calm, quiet and avoid quick movements while handling cows.
  • By using good stockmanship practices you can improve animal comfort, provide safety for people and animals, and improve your bottom line.

Handling livestock in a safe manner is crucial on any farm to prevent accidents, injuries and even death. Large livestock especially pose a threat to our safety. Safely handling livestock protects the animals as much as it protects the people handling them.

There are four basic principles of stockmanship:

  • The animal wants to see you.
  • The animal wants to go around you.
  • The animal wants to be around other animals.
  • The animal can only think of one thing at a time.

Leading animals

General stockmanship is a critical part of the safe transportation of animals. Remember when leading an animal, even though you have the halter, the animal is still in charge. Lead at a comfortable, normal pace for the animal.

Try not to pull on the animal as it can hurt their neck and will cause them to not cooperate. Avoid making any sudden movements or loud noises to prevent startling the animal. If you’re halter-breaking an animal for the show ring, remember they get tired too, so don’t overdo it.

Transporting animals

When transporting animals, there are a lot of safety precautions to keep in mind. Carrying livestock is a difficult load for a truck to handle. 

There are several steps you can take to ensure you and your animals arrive safely when you’re transporting them.  

  • Before loading livestock, step into the trailer and look for any hazards.  
    • These could include loose boards, protruding nails and any garbage.  
  • While in the trailer, also consider the floor. You may want to add bedding in order to prevent slipping.  
  • If possible, cover the trailer during inclement weather conditions. 
  • Ensure you are distributing weight evenly along the sides of the trailer.  
  • While on the road, make sure you don’t feel tired or fatigued.  
  • Be sure to pay attention on the road as moving livestock can shift the trailer’s balance.  
  • Be mindful that the driving will be a little slower than usual, so take your time.
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Livestock safety videos

This series of videos provides information and tips on working with livestock safely. The first video covers stockmanship and livestock behavior. The second video discusses recognizing hazards and moving livestock. The third and final video is about personal and farm safety. 

The information shared in these videos is applicable to any species of livestock and is a great introduction or refresher for farmers of all ages.

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Authors: Brenda Miller, Extension educator and Emily Krekelberg, Extension farm safety and health educator

Reviewed in 2021

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