Building Trust Within the Herd is Key in Cattle Handling

Trust is the basis of any relationship. True for people, and true for cattle.

When it comes to cattle handling, it is tough for producers to achieve their desired results – low stress and maximum efficiency – without first establishing credibility with the herd.

Dr. Tom Noffsinger, a highly respected veterinarian leading the charge in low-stress animal care and well-being, insists that producers are the key to proper herd handling. Facilities are integral in the process, but without proper handling and management, he says, they can’t fully get the job done.

In fact, he is quick to point out that in recent years, handling has had a direct effect on health data.

“If our caregivers and producers are dedicated to making every interaction with cattle a positive event for both people and animals, all of a sudden we see different levels of immune function.”1

Studies show that stressful situations can have negative effects on the immune system, which can make cattle more susceptible to disease and decrease overall production.1 Noffsinger’s work helps encourage producers and veterinarians to do their part in reducing those stresses.

He frequently works with Merial veterinarians to present cattle-handling insights and discuss new findings in the field. Tom Van Dyke, DVM, Merial Large Animal Veterinary Services, takes his information to heart, especially as it relates to important issues such as managing bovine respiratory disease (BRD).

“At Merial, we offer a great antimicrobial agent, but it’s just one tool to be used in the management of BRD,” Van Dyke said. “These tools work a lot better if we pay attention to the immune system of the animal.

That’s where Noffsinger’s expertise comes in.

The producer/animal relationship begins as soon as cattle first arrive at an operation, Noffsinger says, noting that the biggest priority is to manage relocation stress. Cattle are almost certain to be uneasy about transporting, and the last thing they need is to arrive in a harsh environment created by a loud and demanding producer.

The trick, according to Noffsinger, is removing the human voice and hand equipment.

“It’s important to demonstrate that when the cattle arrive at a new location, there is someone there that understands calm, effective communication. It creates an amazingly positive experience for newly arrived cattle.”

“At times,” he continues, “cattle are liars.” They hide the way they feel because of a perceived threat from their human handlers, which can lead to misguided treatment or a lack of treatment altogether.

But if cattle believe they are safe, they will relax and reveal their true state of health. In turn, producers can more accurately treat cattle for health issues commonly found following transport or relocation, such as BRD.

“We’re learning to work cattle attuned to the way they see the world,” Van Dyke said. “If we behave positively with the way they see things, we can do a lot better with them and cause a lot less stress.”

Though there are many aspects of cattle handling that require hard work and significant attention, Noffsinger knows that building trust early is the key for producers who want to get the most from their herd and from themselves.

“Our responsibility is to make every interaction positive for the cattle and the people involved,” he says. “And we do that by practicing consistent and effective communication. The foundation of efficient communication is understanding the animals and reading them.”

Click here to learn more of Dr. Noffsinger and Dr. Van Dyke’s thoughts on building trust through low-stress cattle handling.

For ZACTRAN® (gamithromycin) full prescribing information, visit

ZACTRAN IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION: For use in cattle only. Do not treat cattle within 35 days of slaughter. Because a discard time in milk has not been established, do not use in female dairy cattle 20 months of age or older, or in calves to be processed for veal. The effects of ZACTRAN on bovine reproductive performance, pregnancy and lactation have not been determined.

About Merial

Merial is a world-leading, innovation-driven animal health company, providing a comprehensive range of products to enhance the health and well-being of a wide range of animals. Merial employs 6,100 people and operates in more than 150 countries worldwide with more than €2 billion of sales in 2014.

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1 Cooke R. Overview of the Cattle Immune System. Oregon State University Beef Cattle Library. 2010;1-5.

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