Working Together for Cattle Well-Being

Published on Mon, 08/03/2015 - 1:41pm

CreatingConnections™ Helps Cattlemen Continuously Improve Animal Handling

The art of stockmanship has existed since the beginning of cattle production. It’s also an art that remains a differentiator in cattle handling today. Cattle are social animals. They naturally follow leaders who guide them to water, food and shelter. And how they’re handled impacts their health, well-being, performance and meat quality. It can even mean the difference in an animal’s immunity and resistance to disease.
That’s why Merck Animal Health introduced CreatingConnections™, a program to help cattlemen continuously improve the way they interact with, move and transport cattle. Through conversations with leading cattlemen, proven stockmanship techniques have been gathered that will help handlers communicate with cattle and create a low-stress environment.

CreatingConnections.info— an education hub
These techniques and discussions on handling methods all culminate on CreatingConnections.info, a website that serves as a cattle handling and education hub for producers worldwide.Tom Noffsinger, D.V.M., a consulting feedyard veterinarian for Production Animal Consultation who’s well known for his work on low-stress cattle handling practices, plays an integral role.“The behavior of cattle — how they interact with each other and with people — can be shaped by positive interactions with caregivers and tells us a tremendous amount about how cattle are feeling,” says Dr. Noffsinger. “CreatingConnections is a valuable tool to help producers all over the world improve herd health and contribute to a safe environment for cattle and their handlers.”A true believer in the effectiveness of moving cattle without words, Dr. Noffsinger partners with other industry experts to demonstrate nonverbal techniques, such as deliberate use of posture, stimulus-reward movements and spatial awareness among the herd.

Video series filmed in real-world settings
The CreatingConnections.info website hosts several high-quality video series focused on topics including benefits of a Bud Box, emptying pens and preparing horses for work. Here’s a closer look at the series:

  • Stockmanship series — Helps handlers build trust and enhance cattle well-being with “nothing in the hands” stockmanship, an approach that means no sticks, no paddles — just quiet, confident movements that result in calm cattle that are easier to handle, diagnose and manage.
  • Acclimation series — Addresses reducing stress when moving or relocating cattle. Handlers use body position, working distance, angles and gentle pressure to create voluntary cattle motion as a herd.
  • Horsemanship series — Offers insights cattlemen can use to improve their horsemanship skills.
  • Stockmanship at Work series — Features cattlemen who use low-stress handling skills daily — presenting real-world settings and typical interactions between market-ready cattle and handlers on moving day. 

A video shot on location at Kuner Feedyard in Colorado, part of JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, LLC, shows how easy it is using just a few people to move a pen of market-ready cattle through the pen, through the loading chute, onto the truck and off the truck at the packing plant using strategic handling techniques.“By integrating the handling techniques outlined in the video, we’ve reduced stress levels among the cattle and the handlers. It requires fewer handlers to move and load a pen of cattle, making it a safer, more satisfying experience,” says Thoren. “Educational programs like CreatingConnections help us drive home the importance of stockmanship to employees across all phases of the Five Rivers system.”

Building a better future through education
Continuous education is essential to building a better future for the cattle industry, which is why CreatingConnections also features Educational Modules that provide additional information, education and training to help advance and incorporate stockmanship skills within any type of operation.These modules, which are developed in partnership with university and industry experts, will help producers, employees and veterinarians provide the best possible cattle care. Each module includes a short quiz and certificate of completion that can be customized and printed.The first Educational Module is already available and focuses on acclimation. It was developed by Dr. Noffsinger; Dan Thomson, D.V.M., Beef Cattle Institute; and Paulo Loureiro, D.V.M., Merck Animal Health.“Producers know relocating cattle can cause stress, which can directly impact suppression of the immune system, susceptibility to health challenges and decreased performance. Minimizing that stress is key,” says Dr. Paulo, who also has been fundamental in creating connections with animals — and within the cattle industry — that enhance handling skills and herd health. “We’ve gathered real-world examples to demonstrate techniques that are pivotal to working successfully with cattle and helping them to acclimate more quickly to new surroundings.”The module takes an in-depth look at implementing these gradual acclimation techniques to minimize stress and encourage cattle to eat, drink, rest and work better with handlers in new environments. Through video demonstrations and a roundtable discussion, the video details how to gauge each animal’s individual characteristics, as well as identify the influential animals and work with them to establish confidence throughout the herd.
“This module really highlights the powerful impact that people can have on animals — without even saying a word,” says Dr. Noffsinger. “Through this video, viewers learn to use strategic angles and consistent positioning and spacing to convince cattle to volunteer to move calmly. Cattle are intuitive animals and can learn to respond to nonverbal cues from handlers, which helps create trust between the two.”
Additional Educational Modules will be added regularly and will focus on topics that include yard weaning, stockmanship for cow/calf operations, transportation and heat stress management, just to name a few. Following a simple registration, Merck Animal Health customers and their employees can explore topics relevant to their operations.

A continuous commitment to animal health
CreatingConnections is a reflection of Merck Animal Health’s commitment to improving animal well-being and overall herd health through education. As a company that’s dedicated to the science of healthier animals, there’s a continuous need and responsibility to share best practices and innovative concepts that positively impact animal well-being.“Doing what’s best for the animal is at the root of every question we ask,” says Rick Sibbel, D.V.M., Merck Animal Health. “How can we reduce the number of trips to the chute? Can we mitigate certain areas of stress for the animals? These are the questions that need to be asked and that we strive to answer when developing new solutions and best practices for cattle. CreatingConnections will play an important role in supporting the ongoing evolution of our industry.”How we go about cattle handling can make all the difference. Understanding the unspoken language that connects us with cattle is a vital aspect of the stockman’s craft. By simply observing animal behaviors and being willing to adapt to their habits and tendencies, we can learn handling methods that improve cattle trust, cattle well-being and overall cattle health.