Livestock producers can make significant improvements to their operations by noticing small distractions and making simple changes to their facilities. Dr. Temple Grandin, renowned livestock handling expert and best-selling author, shared a number of animal handling techniques and suggestions with more than 350 livestock producers at South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Bill Even’s farm near Humboldt, S.D.
“To make livestock handling facilities work better and more efficiently, you have to get rid of all distractions and be a better observer of things that we don’t notice every day,” said Dr. Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University.
Cattle, pigs and sheep will be easily distracted by the smallest details, such as a shadow on the wall, a chain or piece of plastic moving in the wind, a change in flooring materials, or an object lying on the ground, said Dr. Grandin. She noted that most distractions can be addressed with simple and inexpensive changes, such as covering the sides of fences so cattle aren’t distracted by people or moving equipment on the other side. She also suggested that producers experiment with temporary coverings like cardboard before making permanent changes to pens or corrals.
“We’re always looking for ways to improve the way we work with cattle and keep our facilities working better,” said Lincoln DeKramer, cow-calf producer from Canistota. “Dr. Grandin’s presentation was very informative and gave me a number of good ideas on how to remove distractions and keep both the cattle and people working with them calm and safe.”
Dr. Grandin emphasized the importance of keeping animals calm and outlined a number of techniques that can be used to direct animals into pens or keep them moving through chutes by working with the animal’s own instincts and natural behaviors.
“Cattle, pigs and sheep can all sense the difference between a person who is calm and someone who is excited or yelling at them. Once an animal is excited or stressed, it takes about 20 to 30 minutes for it to calm down again,” said Dr. Grandin.
Dr. Grandin also walked producers through the cattle handling facilities at Secretary Even’s farm as a hands-on example of how to evaluate pens and corrals at their own farms.
“Dr. Grandin’s approach really hits home because she encourages producers to look at things very simply and make changes that really can improve the well-being of the cattle and safety of people working with them,” said Bob Wollmann, of Rural Manufacturing, a company that makes livestock handling equipment in Freeman, SD. “Designing livestock handling facilities to keep animals moving in a single direction and keep the flow going smoothly is important.”
Dr. Grandin also recommended that farmers and ranchers implement a version of a “scoring” system similar to those used at many processing plants. Keeping track of the number of possible issues such as animals slipping or stopping will help producers identify needed changes or improvements.
More information about Dr. Grandin’s research and recommendations can be found at www.grandin.com. Video demonstrations of livestock handling techniques and examples of animal behavior can also be found on www.youtube.com.
The free event was open to the public and presented by Agriculture United for South Dakota, the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, and South Dakota Cooperative Extension Service. Lunch was provided by Ag United, Rural Manufacturing and the Montrose Vet Clinic, and was served by the West Central FFA.
Ag United was developed through a collaboration of farm organizations that support livestock production and development and includes the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Pork Producers Council and the South Dakota Soybean Association. The President of the organization is Volga farmer, Scott VanderWal; the Secretary is Astoria farmer, Dave Iverson.