We all know that stress is not good for us and leads to health problems. Stress can also be detrimental to cattle in ways we may not easily see. That is why low-stress or quiet handling of cattle is an important principle in the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA)
Program. When cattle owners become BQA certified, they are giving consumers an “assurance” that their cattle are raised in a way to provide cattle with appropriate care. The nice thing about quiet handling is that besides providing for the animal’s welfare it also provides economic benefits.
When cattle are stressed, they release the hormone cortisol. This hormone can interfere with many functions in the cow’s body including ovulation, conception, and establishment of pregnancy. Also, a cow’s immune function can be affected. If you have cattle gathered to give them their yearly vaccines and they are overly stressed, the effectiveness of that vaccine can be greatly reduced. Additionally, a cow’s rumen, which is the largest compartment of their stomach, may not function correctly when they are under extended periods of stress. This can greatly affect a cow’s ability to utilize forages that they eat, and she may not get the nutrition she needs.
As a cattle owner there are some concepts about a cow’s physiology that you must keep in mind to work WITH your cattle and not AGAINST them. Cattle are colorblind, have great panoramic vision, and have narrow vertical vision because their pupil is a horizontal slit. This creates a situation where shadows, moving objects, and multi-colored areas create opportunity for cattle to spook, adding stress. Cattle hear low-volume and high-frequency sounds better than humans. Therefore, they prefer a quieter environment. Since they are herd animals, they do not like to be isolated. Anytime you must sort cattle into smaller groups, keep it a group so a cow isn’t by herself. Cattle also develop a “handling memory”. Each time you interact with your cattle, make it as pleasant and low-stress as possible. They remember good and bad experiences and respond accordingly. Think about when they hear your truck or an ATV come in the gate. Do they run to the sound (because they remember they usually get some feed) or do they run in the other direction? Positive interactions with their handler can pay off in the long run.
Reducing stress improves weight gain, reproductive performance, and animal health. These are all things that can affect the sustainability of your cattle operation AND makes your beef customers happy!