“There’s no limit to better,” stockman Bud Williams used to say. Even after 45 years of stockmanship (the art of working effectively and calmly with livestock), he felt like he just was scratching the surface. It was one of many powerful lessons shared by Richard McConnell and Tina Williams at their Proper Stockmanship training at TomKat Ranch co-hosted with the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District.
Performance loss, which includes the overall health and weight gain of the animals among other factors, can be a very costly unknown to a producer’s bottom line. It’s hard to know what has been lost, if it’s never been gained in the first place. It’s been estimated that performance loss is greater than all mortality losses by tenfold. At TomKat Ranch, we believe there is a difference between surviving and thriving. Ensuring that cattle thrive is the backbone of low-stress stockmanship. Animals that are treated with a higher level of respect are more receptive to handling, they show lower incidences of injuries and disease, and they have higher pregnancy rates.
One of the things that makes low-stress stockmanship so effective is that it works with the animal’s natural drives, leveraging their natural instincts. A key component of this relationship is the awareness of how to approach the animal, and the safe areas where they’re more comfortable being contacted. It’s all founded on developing predictable and influential patterns based on pressure and release. Put simply, the way a handler approaches an animal provides pressure and the way they back away is the release. Over time, moving in and out of an animal’s “flight zone” can calmly encourage it to move the direction you’d like it to move in without having to resort to high-stress and counterproductive techniques like cattle-prods.
As Richard says, “There is no right or wrong answer. Only ‘right’ and ‘not quite right’. We will almost always be ‘not quite right’ before we can be ‘right’! The outcome is different in every situation. What works for moving cattle respectfully today might not be what works tomorrow. But, isn’t that always the way in Adaptive Management? Each day we must adapt to new challenges. It sure is nice when the cattle are more accepting of those challenges. Low-stress stockmanship allows them to be just that. Over the years, we’ve seen many benefits from this type of handling and how it relates to not only the animals on the ranch, but also the people. What we’re finding should be no surprise to anyone–low stress is good for everyone.
As the day was coming to a close, it was inspiring to see how many of our community members that attended left feeling empowered by the benefits of low stress stockmanship. You could hear the passion and excitement in their voices to continue working with these principles. After a full day of learning and sharing, we left feeling exactly the same way.
For more information about Proper Stockmanship, visit Handnhandlivestocksolutions.com.