Dr. Temple Grandin was the guest of honor at the NCHA Super Stakes in Fort Worth, Texas. After evaluating the cattle and facilities at the Will Rogers Coliseum, she spoke to a captivated room of NCHA members, competitors and cutting enthusiasts on the best practices for handling cattle in a calm, controlled manner.
Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, is a world-renowned authority on autism and animal behavior. Nearly half of the cattle in North America are managed in livestock-handling facilities of her design, and her writings on the flight zone and other principles of grazing animal behavior have helped reduce animals’ stress during handling.
“Animals’ behavior is determined in two ways – genetics and previous experience,” Grandin said as she offered insight into predominate indicators of stress amongst livestock for her audience. “The cattle I saw today were calm and controlled, and they had nice genetics, too – very middle-of-the-road temperaments. What I noticed about these cattle is that they moved in a very controlled manner, and they were not pooping. When they poop and it starts to dribble down their backside, your animal is really stressed.
“I was amazed by all the work you did with them and almost no pooping,” she continued, commending the NCHA for their treatment of the livestock at the Super Stakes. “Seeing the whites of their eyes means they’re very stressed; another thing to look for is whether their ears are doing the ‘airport radar’ and going every which way. I didn’t see any of that. The cattle were nice, calm and controlled, and chewing their cud. I like to see that!”
While inspecting the cattle facilities, Grandin looked for drastic changes in lighting, which could cause cattle to be wary of moving forward.
“I got asked about the tunnel here at Will Rogers Coliseum, but that works OK because you bring your cattle into the Coliseum and let them acclimate for two days; they are here long enough for their eyes to adjust,” Grandin said. “If you just brought them in and two seconds later shoved them in that tunnel, I think you would have a problem.
“The lighting in the main pens and the lighting in the holding pen is the same; that’s good! It takes 20 minutes for their eyes to adjust to being indoors, and while it’s somewhat bright in the arena, it’s much less than direct, dazzling sunlight.”
Grandin also felt the temperature in the coliseum was acceptable for keeping the cattle in the ideal thermal neutral zone, “the temperature where they feel neither hot nor cold.”
Along with her praise, Grandin offered tips for improving the transition when cattle are received at the facility. She explained that cattle have “lousy” depth perception, so it’s important to give them time to explore on their own terms and realize there is enough food and water. It’s also important to remove coats from the fence and move parked vehicles farther away so the reflections don’t startle the cattle.
While weather, genetics and origin can all be factors in cattle behavior, Grandin reminded her audience that flight zones can also be determined by human interaction. Working the edge of the flight zone will gradually tame them down. She also recommended zig-zagging on the edge of their flight zone, causing them to bunch and making them easier to move. And, after being stressed, it takes 20-30 minutes for the cattle’s heart rates to return to normal.
On the topic of cattle settling and the amount of time cattle are held at the facility, Grandin offered the following advice: “The only way to absolutely determine whether the cattle should be here one or two days beforehand is to set up an experiment. And it would be best to do it where you split cattle from the same ranch, and half of them spend two days here and the other half of them only spend one. That’s the only way to absolutely make a decision on that.
“Now that I’ve seen how you do things, I think the problem [with challenging cattle] is how the animals are handled on the ranches because the cattle you have here are really nice cattle genetically. Cattle have very good memories, so if you scare them or treat them badly, they will remember that for a very long time.”