The goal of people handling cattle (handlers) is to minimize the stress on their herds. Prolonged stress can make an animal prone to illness. Handlers have a unique appreciation for cattle; they understand the behaviour and instincts of the animals, allowing them to intuitively predict animal behaviour and thus reduce stress on the animal.
Cattle handling is a skill that takes time to hone. The most reliable techniques for handling cattle make use of the animal’s predictable instinctive behaviour. The most predictable of all behaviours occurs when cattle flight zones are penetrated.
Principles of Cattle Behaviour
All cattle have a flight zone - the circle of safety around an animal. Understanding principles of the flight zone reduces stress on cattle and minimizes accidents to handlers.
The rule of thumb when working in the flight zone is that the animals will move away if a person penetrates the zone. As such, handlers can approach the animal from different angles and positions to affect different movement in the cattle.
To move an animal forward – the handler approaches just behind the animal’s shoulder.
To move an animal backward – the handler approaches just in front of the animal’s shoulder.
To make an animal turn right or left –the handler approaches the animal head-on. When the handler moves to the left of the animal, it will turn right.
When the handler moves to the right of the animal, it will turn left.
Handlers must be careful not to get too close to the animal. If the flight zone is penetrated too deeply, some animals will panic and try to escape. Handlers also avoid yelling while around the cattle as it can startle the animals. When cattle are moved together, a collective flight zone develops around the group.
When the handler penetrates the large zone, the herd moves together. Cattle like to see where they are going, so their heads are a good indicator of the direction in which they are going. When moving a herd, good handlers watch the heads of the cattle closely to anticipate where they animals are moving, allowing handlers to take action before a problem occurs.