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Beefs and Beliefs

Cattle Hide Their Illnesses

Evolutionary wiliness must be overcome with low-stress handling.

When I was in Nebraska last week Dr. Tom Noffsinger was making a presentation about stockmanship - Bud Williams-type stuff.

In fact, Noffsinger says he spent some time with Williams several years back while he was working and teaching in Nebraska, where Noffsinger ranches and practices from his veterinary clinic.

He showed and talked about a really instructive group of videos moving cattle in various situations, trailering them in an open pasture, doctoring in open pasture, calming new arrivals at a feedyard or backgrounding yard. All this was using low-stress handling.

When I asked him about posting these videos to our website with his voice-over explanation on each, he said he's working on getting that very thing done, possibly on his own website. I hope to hear from him soon and will let our readers know.

As I sat listening to Noffsinger, he reminded me about how effective cattle are at hiding injuries, especially lameness. It's thousands of years of evolutionary programming in work. When predators came around, the sick animals tried to keep tight in the herd for protection. The stragglers, the weak, were first to get eaten.

Noffsinger said one night several years back they had gotten a truck of stale calves in that had been too long on the road. There was blood all down the side of the truck where one calf had stuck a leg out through a hole and torn off a dewclaw/toe. They knew what had happened because the toe was frozen to the side of the truck.

He thought they'd find that calf limping right away, but after circling the calves gently around the lot several times there was no sign of him. Noffsinger said once they got the calves calmed down and slowed down they identified him because he was leaving bloody hoof prints in the snow.

"They'll hide an injury from you if they don't trust you," he says.

On the other hand, Noffsinger says he knows pen riders who sick cattle will actually approach and follow to essentially ask for help.

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