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Handling Livestock Safely

Most transporters know that no matter how gentle an animal may appear, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will continue to act like this while you’re handling them and on the road.  It’s important to understand how all livestock animals think and what their natural behaviors are so that you can be safe when loading, unloading and transporting these animals.

All livestock animals were once a prey of some sort.  All predators have their eyes on the front of their head and have sharp teeth.  All prey have eyes on the sides of their head and have blunt teeth.  You, to a prey animal, are a predator so it is important to remember that when you are handling livestock.

All livestock animals have a point of balance at their shoulder.  When you stand behind their shoulder, it encourages them to move forward.  When you stand in front of the shoulder, they will either stop or they will back away.  Many handlers will make the mistake of standing in front of the shoulders of those animals that they are trying to load.  This is the case with horses often as you try to lead their head into the trailer rather than giving them a driving force from behind.  Groups of cattle or pigs will often move easily into a chute if you don’t stand in front of their shoulder but encourage them from behind.  Because of this, it is often not necessary to prod every animal to get them to the chute and onto a trailer. In fact, if you can stand behind their shoulders and motivate them to move forward they will often move quite easily through a chute and into a trailer without being prodded at all.

All livestock animals also have a “flight zone.”  This is the distance that they feel safe from you and if you move into that space they will move away.  The size of an animal’s flight zone will depend on how tame the animals are.  You can think of this as their “personal bubble.” The size of the flight zone also depends on how excited the animals are, the more excited they are the large the zone becomes.  For cattle, it’s important to remember they are easier to move if they are calm and if they do get excited it will take about 20 to 30 minutes for them to calm down.

If you understand this concept of flight zones and point of balance, you will be much more successful in moving animals and working with them while you are traveling.