Low-Stress Livestock Sorting Basics

June 17, 2023

Most farmers know how stressful it can be to sort livestock. At any point, an animal (or handler) could slip and hurt themselves.

Over the last few years, animal handling research has shown that stress during sorting can affect the quality of meat produced. But that’s not the worst of it. When cattle are stressed, they may become ill, injured, produce less, or even produce a lower quality product. This article focuses on how producers can keep their cattle stress-free while sorting.

Understanding Livestock Behavior When Sorting

When sorting livestock, it’s important to understand the behavior of the animals. Each animal has a unique personality, and this can impact the way they respond to being sorted.

For example, some animals may be more resistant to being moved, while others may be more cooperative.

This can vary from species to species or from animal to animal.

So, it’s important to take this into account when sorting, as it can help to make the process smoother and more efficient.

In addition, it’s imperative to be aware of the body language of your animals. Doing so provides valuable clues as to how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.

For instance, an animal that’s tense and rigid may be feeling stressed or scared (and more likely to bolt), while an animal that’s relaxed and loose may be more likely to be compliant.

Paying attention to these cues can help to make the sorting process more humane and effective, and of course, much less stressful for you and your livestock.

Limit Noise for Low-Stress Livestock Sorting

When sorting livestock, it’s important to limit the amount of noise that’s made. This helps to avoid stressing the animals and will also make the process more efficient.

There are a few ways to keep things calm and quiet while sorting livestock:

  1. Make sure that all equipment is in good working order and that there are no loose or squeaky parts that could make noise.
  2. Keep the animals moving smoothly through the sorting process to prevent the livestock from becoming impatient and vocal. The easiest way to do this is to have the right type of sorting equipment and a plan in place to utilize it before beginning.
  3. Communicate quietly and calmly with others involved in the sorting process so that everyone is on the same page and knows what to do to minimize noise.

Go Slow and Be Subtle When Sorting Cattle

When sorting livestock, it’s important to be gentle. Livestock are typically considered prey animals, so it’s easy to scare them and create a flight response unintentionally.

For example, being too rough, too loud, or moving in a “stalking” pattern can cause your animals to panic and injure themselves (or you).

That’s why it’s important to take your time and be careful when you’re sorting them. If you’re calm and gentle, they’ll be more likely to stay calm and stay safe.

It’s amazing how easily an animal can pick up on the energy of its handlers.

Be Patient With Your Livestock

Aside from slow, intentional movement, it’s important to be patient with your animals during the sorting process.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed and impatient when animals don’t move in the intended direction. But we can’t forget that there’s a “language” barrier between us and our animals. So patience must be practiced.

Our animals don’t always understand what we’re asking of them.

If you’re rushed or impatient, the animals will sense your stress and it will make the experience even more stressful for them. So take your time, be patient, and make sure the animals remain calm throughout the process. In other words, all handlers have to keep their cool and practice patience.

Positioning is Everything with Low-Stress Livestock Sorting

When it comes to sorting livestock, it’s important to position yourself effectively (in relation to your animals) to stay safe and get the job done efficiently.

Here are some tips on how to do just that:

  1. Make sure you have a clear path to the intended destination. You don’t want to be tripping over obstacles or getting caught up in fencing as you try to move the animals around.
  2. Pay attention to the animals’ body language and be aware of their movements. If an animal seems agitated or is moving erratically, it could be a sign that it’s about to kick or charge, so be prepared to move out of the way.
  3. Take your time and don’t rush the process. Sorting livestock can be a dangerous task, so it’s important to be careful and methodical in your movements. Position yourself intentionally in relation to the animals you’re moving. If you have a good grasp of the behavior of your livestock, this will get easier with time.

Apply Pressure at the Right Time When Sorting Livestock

When sorting livestock, it is important to apply pressure at the right time. And when we say pressure, we don’t necessarily mean direct contact. It could be a movement toward an animal, or something as small as one step toward the “hip” of the livestock you’re moving to get them to go in the direction you’d like them to go in.

On the other hand, If you apply too much pressure, and at the wrong time, the livestock may become agitated and difficult to control. But if you don’t apply enough pressure, the livestock may not move in the desired direction.

The key is to find the right balance of pressure that will allow you to effectively, and safely, sort the livestock. And there’s no right way to determine this balance because all animals and herds are different. It all comes down to understanding the species and your unique herd.

Use Effective Sorting Equipment

When sorting livestock, it’s important to use the right type of sorting equipment to keep a low-stress sorting environment.

Sorting pens, chutes, and gates (like a lot of the equipment Lakeland offers) are all common pieces of livestock sorting equipment. The type of equipment you’ll use depends on the type of livestock you’re sorting and the size of the herd.

If you’re sorting a small herd of cattle, for example, you might use a set of portable pens. But if you’re sorting a large herd of sheep, you might use a set of chutes and gates.

Lastly, no matter the type of livestock you’re sorting, it’s important to make sure that the sorting equipment is in good condition. Sorting equipment that’s in poor condition can injure livestock and make the sorting process more stressful.

We hope you enjoyed this brief intro to low-stress livestock sorting. If you’re ready to find the perfect sorting equipment for your herd, be sure to check out our livestock handling packages.

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