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5 Essentials to Better Stockmanship with Curt Pate

Using low-stress livestock handling techniques can help weaning and shipping run smoother

Handling cattle can be stressful, especially during activities like weaning or shipping. Using low-stress livestock handling techniques can help to make these tasks run smoother and keep both cattle and people safer.

Stockmanship clinician Curt Pate works with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's (NCBA) Stockmanship and Stewardship program giving demonstrations across the country on stockmanship and Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) principles.

To understand stockmanship principles, Pate says, "We must first recognize the fact that living in a crowded human world creates habits that go against what it takes to have success handling stock properly."

"Once we understand that, we need to learn how to put the correct pressure on at the correct time to get our animals to work for us in a way that they are not overly stressed and get better with each interaction," says Pate.

With over 25 years of experience working with livestock and horses, Pate, in addition to his demonstrations, offers animal handling consulting services  to feedyards, grazing programs, and ranchers with large working crews. He says the most common mistake he sees from newcomers to stockmanship is not applying the proper amount of pressure.

"The term 'low-stress handling' has been taken as low-pressure handling," says Pate. "The good stockman knows how to apply proper pressure (not always low) to get the animal to do what is needed without panicking."

The biggest challenge, according to Pate, is to find the best spot to put pressure on the animal and then know when to take it off.

"If animals turn around or baulk at something this means you are too far away, if they panic you are too close," says Pate. "We should always read this and change our position."

Understanding how to apply and when to take it off is especially important when handling cattle in chute systems for purposes such as weighing animals on a Gallagher weighing system. Pate recommends getting cattle ready to work and used to pressure before they are ever near the chute.

"If they are panicked, they will have more chance to create injury to humans or animals, and may make what you are going to do in the chute more difficult," says Pate. "If the animals are overly gentle, you sometimes must put so much pressure on them it can be abusive."

Working animals properly by training them to the facilities beforehand and following BQA standards will ensure this activity is safer and more effective for both parties involved.

In addition to close quarters, stockmanship principles also have application in grazing programs.

"We all seem to focus on stockmanship in the pens," says Pate, "but I believe out in the pasture is where the important animal husbandry begins."

In the pasture, is where an animal learns to take pressure and pay attention to its human handler. Pate urges producers to teach livestock to move, stop, and turn from pressure in this setting before moving to a smaller area.

"We can get more out of our pastures by placing animals in certain spots, not having them beg us to move every time they see us, and have the animal look to us for guidance, not try to escape from us," says Pate.

While it may be difficult to understand at first, Pate ensures over time producers will see the difference stockmanship makes in the well-being and profit potential of livestock.

For those interested in learning more about stockmanship, Pate suggests the following resources:

  1. Temple Grandin (http://www.grandin.com) – A good place to start to understand the basics of animal behavior.
  2. Bud Williams Stockmanship DVD (available at www.stockmanship.com) – A must-watch to really get a feel for what you can do with animals.
  3. NCBA's Stockmanship and Stewardship Seminars (http://www.bqa.org/stockmanstewardship.aspx) – This is a good place to start on some ideas.
  4. Production Animal Consultants (PAC) Seminars (http://pacdvms.com) – This group is currently presenting several seminars that are very educational.
  5. Hand 'n Hand Livestock Solutions Stockmanship Schools (http://www.handnhandlivestocksolutions.com) – Taught by Richard McConnell and daughter of Bud Williams, Tina Williams, these schools are excellent places to get hands-on experience.

"The main thing is to get out there and work at it," says Pate. "Figure out how to do what you want to do. It's not that difficult."

Pate will tell you stockmanship is one of the oldest skills man has available to him. It has been practiced since Biblical times and before. With the plethora of information sources available thanks to today's communications technology, it is now easier than ever for people to gain knowledge about stockmanship skills.

"When we combine that old skill with the new technology that Gallagher offers us, it is a great time to get out there and put our livestock to working for us – improving our quality of life, the animals' quality of life, and our environment," says Pate. "How could it get any better?"

Authored by Jesse Bussard a agricultural writer based in Bozeman, Montana.

Learn more about Curt Pate's demonstrations and clinics on his site: http://www.curtpatestockmanship.com/

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“I believe out in the pasture is where the important animal husbandry begins.”