Handling of Livestock
All livestock will be handled in some way throughout their lifetime while in production. The way in which livestock are handled has a major impact on animal welfare and productivity (1). Positive interactions with handlers will improve animal well-being and productivity while improper interactions will negatively impact the animal’s welfare by causing stress and fear (1,2). Stress and fear increase the safety risks to both animals and stock people, and decrease meat quality (e.g. “dark cutters” for beef; pale, soft, exudative (PSE) and dry, firm, dark (DFD) for pork; 2).
Animal handling is not a simple process; it involves the handler(s), the animals, and the facilities. These elements are interdependent meaning that each depends on the other to ensure handling occurs as efficiently as possible (5). Ease of handling differs among livestock based on previous experience, breed characteristics, physiological state, and sex (5). Animals have long-term memory and will remember negative experiences (4). Animals poorly handled in the past will be more stressed and harder to handle (4). As well, inadequate handling methods and poorly designed or maintained facilities cause additional stress on cattle, which can lead to a higher incidence of injury to both animals and handlers (5,6). Therefore, it is essential that good handling techniques are used in good facilities to minimize stress on animals and improve worker safety (3,4).
When working with any livestock, the Code of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals requires that animal handlers must be familiar with livestock behaviour and competent in low-stress handling techniques (1,7). The more knowledgeable the handler, the better their ability to predict and interpret an animal’s response (5). Ability to interpret/predict an animal’s reaction is the most important aspect when handling livestock (5). Another important concept for handlers to understand when handling all livestock is the “flight zone” and “point of balance” (1). Flight zone refers to the animals’ personal space; the minimum distance an animal will maintain between itself and a potential threat (3). It is important to note that the flight zone will vary between animals and the size of the flight zone depends on tameness, the angle of handler’s approach, and state of excitement (3,4). A good handler will know when to enter an animal’s flight zone and when to retreat so that animals will move calmly and quietly in the desired direction (5). The point of balance is located at an animal’s shoulder (3). The animal will move based on which way the handler passes its point of balance (e.g. the animal will move forward if the handler passes the point of balance in the opposite direction; 3). Animals can also be trained using point of balance to move in desired directions without causing stress (3).
When used properly, handling tools can be effective in a safe and humane manner (2). These include but are not limited to sorting boards, rattle paddles, and nylon flags (2). Electric prods are only acceptable for use on pigs and cattle as a last resort, never as a primary tool, as it is very stressful and can even lead to death in pigs (1,7). Prod use is restricted to the back and hind legs, never on sensitive areas (e.g. genital and anal areas, eyes, nose) and never on calves under 3 months of age (1,7).
The Code of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals also requires that animals not be handled aggressively and deems willful mistreatment unacceptable (1,7). Unfortunately, aggressive handling and mistreatment does happen, but rather than focus on the negative, the industry needs to focus on moving forward and seek ways to improve handling techniques so that animal welfare can be maximized. One way to achieve this is by hiring a stockperson who is confident, has a positive attitude towards animals, understands animal behaviour, and can interpret animal actions.
- 2014. Code of practice for the care and handling of pigs. http://www.nfacc.ca/pdfs/codes/pig_code_of_practice.pdf (Accessed 7 June 2017.)
- Pajor, E. 2012. How to move and handle pigs. http://porkgateway.org/resource/how-to-move-and-handle-pigs/ (Accessed 7 June 2017.)
- Government of Alberta. 2004. Handling livestock safely. http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex8274/$file/086-pdf?OpenElement (Accessed 7 June 2017.)
- Borg, R. 2000. Facilities and environment: cattle handling. Alberta Agriculture and http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/beef11833 (Accessed 7 June 2017.)
- NSW Government. Handling cattle. http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/animals-and- livestock/beef-cattle/husbandry/general-management/handling-cattle (Accessed 7 June 2017.)
- Ontario Ministry of Labor: Health and Safety. 2006. Section 3: large animal handling: occupational health and safety guidelines for farming operations in Ontario. https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/hs/pubs/farming/gl_animal.php (Accessed 7 June 2017.)
- 2013. Code of practice for the care and handling of beef cattle. http://www.nfacc.ca/pdfs/codes/beef_code_of_practice.pdf (Accessed 7 June 2017.)