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Fodder for Thought

Veterinarian Says Stockmanship Can Save Thousands Of Dollars

Low-stress stock handling for better animal health requires new skills and practice, practice, practice.


My recent travels to southeastern Wyoming for the Integrated Ranch Management Symposium gave me the opportunity to attend a one-day stockmanship clinic with low-stress livestock handling expert and consulting feedyard veterinarian, Tom Noffsinger of Benkelman, Nebraska.

During his talk Noffsinger emphasized that "stockmanship is the foundation of animal health, performance and profit potential."

As caregivers of livestock, the way we treat the animals under our care has been shown to have significant impacts on their health, performance and general well-being. Variations in cattle health and performance are largely due to human impact in the form of stress.

In the long run, the way livestock are handled will also have tremendous effects, both negative and positive, on ranch profitability.

In an example Noffsinger shared, home-raised calves taken from weaning to market initially showed 7% mortality and 45% morbidity. In addition, medicine cost per head was $6.30. Given this scenario in a large scale operation, such as a 80,000-head feedyard, treatment costs with a 45% morbidity rating would equal $226,800 annually.

When low stress-handling techniques were implemented, mortality and morbidity drastically reduced to 0.6% and 3% respectively. Treatment costs were also decreased to 42 cents per head. In that 80,000-head feedyard situation, the treatment cost for 3% morbidity would be reduced to slightly over $1,000.

Talk about a cost savings!

According to Noffsinger these higher morbidity rates are related to two things. The first is the inability of caregivers to accurately assess cattle behavior and health. In addition he says current handling methods many times encourage cattle to hide their bad health.

In fact, it is the animals' instinct to hide their bad health when in a stressful situation. Noffsinger says this instinct arises as part of the animal’s natural prey tendencies. In the wild predators, almost always go after the weakest animals in a herd.

To reduce stress on livestock he suggest caregivers set certain goals for management of incoming animals. Ways to do this include:

  • Greet new arrivals to reduce relocation stress.
  • Demonstrate communication skills that make the human-cattle interaction positive.
  • Learn to recognize health abnormalities.

He adds that livestock caregivers need to create an environment where livestock feel comfortable. He says such an environment encourages health-status honesty in cattle, allows for better immune function, enhances water and feed intake levels, and encourages cattle to rest, allowing them to better settle into new surroundings.

To learn how Dr. Noffsinger suggests these low stress livestock handling techniques be implemented watch this Veterinarians On Call video.

In the end, Noffsinger says the important thing to get in your head is this – instead of managing crisis, take preventive measures. Only through an honest, concerted effort can animal handlers improve their skills and become better analysts of cattle behavior.

Also, he says to remember stockmanship is not something that is picked up overnight. It takes practice and an ongoing desire to learn.

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