Low-stress livestock handling
By Aaron Paulson
Ranch Manager, Snowcrest Ranch
Low-Stress Livestock Handling (LSLH) has become a common phrase in production livestock. Human and animal safety are greatly improved with the implementation of LSLH techniques. Many consumers now focus on knowing where their food comes from and how animal welfare is considered in production. As producers of red meat in a niche market, our ability to handle bison in a safe and efficient manner is imperative now and in the future.
LSLH techniques are being increasingly utilized by large and small-scale bison producers as well as the National Park systems in Canada and the United States. There are several clinicians teaching varied techniques that fall within the realm of LSLH; many of which are derived from the teachings of the late Bud Williams. The focus is to provide clear direction, crisp techniques and effective instructions to the animals. The handler has a command presence and communicates with confidence and proper position. Often there are polarizing contrasts from the methods used in conventional versus LSLH. It seems many livestock operations are rooted in conventional handling. This has long lasting effects on both livestock and the handlers. Oddly enough handlers that have been raised with conventional handling find it difficult to make the shift to LSLH. In difficult moves or in perceived crisis, people are quite prone to rescinding back to the conventional techniques of high stress and rapid movement!
There are a variety of benefits from implementing LSLH. First and foremost is the pure enjoyment and pleasure of having successful bison moves and ease of handling in the corrals. Animal health and productivity is vastly enhanced. Also, the ability to utilize pastures and difficult terrain are improved. All success starts in the pasture with frequent and consistent handling. Therefore, it is important to have all handlers trained in the techniques and to use them at all times when handling bison. As our crew has become more fluent and comfortable with these techniques, we have embraced challenges. These include crossing narrow bridges, using difficult gates, and effectively using portions of the ranch not historically grazed with bison. The application of these techniques has proven effective whether on foot, horseback or using all-terrain vehicles. Often, we will utilize all methods when moving bison both inside and outside of the corrals. Preparing the bison and handlers throughout the year is imperative as it “sets the stage” for working bison in the corrals, which all too often is a high stress event. The building of trust between handler and bison through multiple-successful moves sets the stage for uneventful and calm corral work.
There are several guiding principles that hold true across all livestock species:
1) Always use straight lines; this is vital whether moving pastures or checking the herd.
2) Remember that we are always training the animals, and we want to make sure we are not teaching them bad habits by moving incorrectly in and around them.
3) Animals want to experience a release from pressure, therefore never follow directly behind the bison.
4) Keeping animals in a normal frame of mind is imperative as they will remain calm and stress free.
5) Under excess pressure, animals want to go back where they came from. When this happens, recognize it for what it is.
6) We cause what we anticipate, so set your expectations before you start the work
7) Make the entry the exit.
These are just a few of the principles that we can use to increase our successful and enjoyment in moving bison.
We have learned a few tricks that work well to move bison which can help you have successful outcomes. Bison tend to enjoy moving uphill. If it is possible to use this in your favor, they travel well. Also, when moving into the wind bison move freely compared to moving with a tailwind. These seem to be tied closely to the fact that they are prey animals. Therefore, if we move in a direction where we can utilize uphill or into the wind for some or part of the move things typically go much more smoothly. Finally, bison move well from the front. Contrarian thinking can be very effective. For example, when working in corrals, the handler’s intuition is often to move to the back of the pen to empty animals. However, remaining at the front where there is an open gate and showing bison the exit while controlling movement and speed is highly effective.
These are a series of techniques that assist handlers in effectively communicating with livestock. This makes moves that were historically challenging and onerous now enjoyable for both humans and bison. It eliminates the horror stories from bad wrecks, damaged property or injured animals. We are lucky to raise these majestic animals and it is our calling to make their lives pleasant. The rewards are exponential, and the results are favorable for everyone involved as well as financially rewarding.
Please CLICK HERE for a more in-depth look at low-stress bison handling, which was presented at the 2018 National Bison Association’s annual conference.