Scared animals are dangerous animals and that alone is enough reason for handlers to educate themselves on low-stress handling techniques, renowned animal behavior specialist and Colorado State University professor Temple Grandin said during a presentation to a Cattleman's Workshop in Dodge City.
Grandin told the cattlemen present that it takes up to 30 minutes for an agitated animal to calm down and that "you might as well take a break and have a snack and leave them alone" in the meantime.
She said signs of a calm animal include soft, brown eyes, cud chewing, ears facing forward and head down.
Agitated animals will lay their ears back, swish their tail, hold their head up with a vigilant look and vocalize their distress. In addition, they may be sweating or defecating with their skin quivering and the whites of their eyes showing.
"When the ears are back, the animal is scared and likely to be aggressive," she said. "As a handler, this is a warning signal that you can get hurt."
Easily-corrected things to keep animals calm
Among the easily corrected things that help keep animals calm she said, is non-slip flooring, lighting that does not create reflections or shadows, slow, fluid motions, calm voices and light at the end of a passageway.
"Be sure to check your handling area for things that can scare the animal," she said. "A big one is a chain hanging down at the edge of the chute. Hanging, dangling, moving objects are frightening."
She urged handlers to check pen and walking areas and cover metal strips and uneven flooring with dirt to make a smoother surface underfoot and to use non-skid flooring mats to prevent cattle from slipping and sliding on slick floors.
"A fear of falling creates panic," she said.
She also said crowding tubs, or "pass through pens" as she prefers, should have no more animals than can fit single file into the alley at one time. Let them use their normal following behavior to let them where you want them to go.
Keeping animals calm makes sense for everybody, she said.
"It keeps them safer and it keeps you safer," she said.