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Fodder for Thought

Beef Industry Still Needs More Stockmanship

Research and experience show animal health and quality issues in beef industry could be much relieved with more stockmanship.

What if I told you that we could fix a lot of major problems in the cattle industry with some very simple changes in management?

It may sound too good to be true but it really is as simple as that with many of the illness and quality issues we face today.

So what is this fix-all of all fix-alls, you ask? It is stockmanship, also known as low-stress stockmanship or low-stress cattle handling.

Whatever you want to call it, this method and what I believe is a misunderstood art in today’s cattle industry has the power to provide some amazing benefits to those that have the patience and understanding to master the skills.

Texas cowboy and stockman Bob Kinford makes this point very clear in his latest post on The Bovine Blog. He references Bud Williams, pioneer of low stress stockmanship, who has proven time and again that it is possible to cut morbidity and mortality rates in feedyards by nearly 50% just by changing the way cattle are handled.

In addition Kinford noted research data from Pete Anderson that showed cattle from feedyard pens with no death loss gained 13% faster and had 9% lower feed conversion values when compared with feedyard pens with 2% or more death loss.

In Chapter 2 of Steve Cote’s book Stockmanship: A powerful tool for grazing lands management several examples of scientific studies and trials are mentioned that continue to prove it really does matter how livestock are handled.

I found the following statement from those studies most telling:

"In Hawaii, studies on heifers showed that shrink is proportional to the level of stress in handling. Moderate handling stress could cause shrinkage in excess of 6%, and light stress about 4%. Average daily gain after handling trials was affected by the level of handling stress for at least 44 days. The unstressed animals gained 25 pounds, lightly stressed gained 20 pounds, and the moderately stressed gained 16 pounds."

In addition Cote mentions the National Beef Quality Audit which showed for every beef animal marketed, one dollar was lost due to bruises. NBQA also showed 5% of beef carcasses were dark cutters. Suggestions to fix these issues ranged from injecting carcasses with chemicals or salt to genetic selection.

Perhaps those solutions miss the point, just as many people missed the point in the comments of my friend, Bob Kinford’s blog post I referenced earlier.

The take-home point is this: Supplements, drugs, fancy handling facilities, genetic techniques, and meat processing tricks are only band-aids being placed on a continual problem in our industry. Masking the symptoms does not correct the problem.

Stress in livestock is directly correlated to lowered animal health and performance.

Good stockmanship principles and techniques have the ability to eliminate many of these sickness and behavior problems seen in cattle and bring a multitude of benefits that should make any beef producer say "Sign me up!"

Sadly though, while these benefits are obvious, proponents of good stockmanship in the cattle industry face some hard obstacles in convincing the masses of the effectiveness of these methods.

Many producers are under the assumption that they are already practicing low stress methods. They have no time for stockmanship schools and make excuses saying, "That only works in (insert ranch name here)’s facilities. We do it differently here."

However, spend any length of time with these particular producers in a sorting pen or loading trucks and you will soon find that their idea of low stress is anything but.

It is time to stop yelling, put down the hot shot, ditch the rattle paddles, and get back to basics of what stockmanship is really all about. I commend those who already practice these methods the right way. And if you know someone who thinks they do but it is obvious to you that they do not, I encourage you to reach out to them and show them how easy it really can be.

For more information on good stockmanship principles and techniques, read Steve Cote’s book which is available free on Temple Grandin’s website. Consider subscribing to the Stockmanship Journal and check out Bud Williams’ website. In addition, Bud’s daughter, Tina, and her husband, Richard McConnell of Hand ‘n Hand Livestock Solutions occasionally offer two-day stockmanship schools which are an invaluable experience.

Change is hard but by paying a little more attention to our animals and reducing stress, we can not only improve their quality of life but increase our profitability in the process.

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