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Handle with care livestock demos at the 2024 Western Farm Show

MFA brings stockmanship expert Ron Gill to Western Farm Show for low-stress cattle-working demonstrations

Working cattle doesn’t have to be stressful on producers or the animals. Dr. Ron Gill of Texas AgriLife Extension returns to the Western Farm Show later this month in Kansas City to share proven methods that can help.

Gill’s Low-Stress Livestock Handling Demonstration, sponsored by MFA Incorporated, will be offered at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24, at Scott Pavilion, adjacent to the American Royal Building, where the show is held. These sessions are free to paid attendees.

Lowering stress while handling and working livestock not only improves safety for the animals and farmers but also provides health and economic benefits, explained Dr. Tony Martin, MFA manager of animal health.

“When an animal gets stressed, there’s a cortisol release, which is what initiates the fight or flight syndrome,” Martin said. “That cortisol pulsing through their body suppresses their immune system, decreases appetite and has an overall physiological impact that is counterproductive to our efforts keeping them healthy. When you can reduce the stress by working them calmly, you’re not getting that cortisol release, and they will respond better to vaccines and nutrition.”

Gill discovered these advantages firsthand by working to reduce sickness in high-risk cattle on his own ranching operation in Texas, and he has now been sharing that expertise with livestock producers for more than 20 years. His techniques focus on understanding the animals’ natural instincts and using that knowledge to communicate with the cattle. The goal is to have cattle respond, not react, he said.

“People try to make cattle handling really difficult and overthink the process,” Gill explained. “The easier it is on the cattle, the easier it is on you. Just getting them to move and do what you want them to do, that’s stockmanship. But when you use stockmanship skills to actually manage the psychology and well-being of an animal, that’s low-stress handling.”

This method is based on basic principles of cattle behavior:

• Cattle want to see you. Understanding this is foundational to handler positioning and cattle response. If cattle can see you, they know where the pressure is coming from. If the cattle only feel pressure, they can become uneasy, resulting in an unsafe situation. “We normally get behind cattle where they can’t see us very well,” Gill said. “That creates difficulty in getting them to move and communicating what we are asking them to do. I want to work from the front and side, draw the cattle to me and let them take themselves out of the pen.”
• Cattle want to go around you. This allows you to position yourself so that, when the cattle do go around you, they are pointed directly at the intended gate or destination.
• Cattle are herd animals. They want to be with and will go to other cattle. If you get one started, the rest will usually go, too. 
• Cattle want to remove pressure. The key to moving the cattle where you want them is to apply pressure at the right time, Gill said. He suggests setting up the workflow where the handler is pressuring the cattle and then offering the reward of release.
• Cattle can only process one main thought at a time. If cattle are thinking about anything other than what you are asking them to do, change their focus before putting pressure on them.

“Cattle are smart,” Gill said, “and if they are asked correctly, using pressure and release, they will usually do what is asked.”

During his demonstrations, Gill will also discuss an effective working facility design known as a “Bud Box,” a term inspired by the late Bud Williams, who was known across the country for his teachings on livestock marketing and stockmanship. The Bud Box capitalizes on the cattle’s instinct to remove pressure by returning to the last known safe or comfortable place. Low-stress handlers can use this to their advantage when sorting and moving cattle from one corral to another.
While low-stress handling may take slightly more time on the front end, it will save time and money in the long-term, said Gill, adding that effective stockmanship has also been shown to positively impact beef quality and food safety.

“With increasing scrutiny of the industry, it’s important to use management skills that can improve performance, income and animal welfare without adding costs to the process,” he said. “Low-stress handling is one way this can be done.”

We’ll see you at the show

The 2024 Western Farm Show returns to the American Royal Complex in Kansas City Friday, Feb. 23, through Sunday, Feb. 25. More than 400,000 square feet of exhibit space will be filled with new farm and ranch equipment and wide-ranging displays of other agricultural products and services.

MFA Incorporated is once again a primary sponsor of the event, now in its 62nd year. MFA will have booths featuring agronomy, livestock and rural lifestyle products as well as recruitment specialists discussing internship and employment opportunities. MFA will also host two livestock seminars promoting quality health performance for cattle, sheep and goats, topics of special interest to 4-H and FFA exhibitors. In addition, MFA is bringing back stockmanship expert Ron Gill, who will demonstrate low-stress livestock handling techniques at two different sessions on Saturday (see above story).

Coinciding with FFA week, the Western Farm Show offers agricultural students several ways to participate. During FFA Day on Friday, teams from high school chapters will compete in the Farm Equipment Career Development Event, and students can attend 30-minute leadership sessions exploring technology and innovation.

Also on Friday, FFA students from Missouri and Kansas can take part in the “Unite Against Hunger” food drive. Each chapter that brings in a minimum of 200 canned and nonperishable food items will qualify for a drawing.

Other popular activities include “Let’s Talk Shop” educational sessions, the Health and Safety Roundup, and the Family Living Center with shopping opportunities for the whole family. Free health screenings will also be offered.

This year’s show hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Feb. 23 and 24; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Feb. 25. Adult tickets are $10 daily, and children ages 12 and under are free. First responders, military and veterans are free on Sunday with proper identification. Visit your local MFA Agri Services center for a coupon to save $3 at the door.

For more information, visit westernfarmshow.com and follow the Western Farm Show on Facebook and X (formerly Twitter).

Learn more about the events at this year's Western Farm Show HERE: https://www.westernfarmshow.com/events/

Read more of the Feb. 2024 Today's Farmer Magazine Issue HERE.

 

 

 



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