Ten Tips for Successful Cattle Handling

Good handling is safer and less stressful for animals and humans alike

It’s all in keeping with an old industry saying: “You can tell the quality of a cattle producer by watching the way the producer’s animals react to handling.”

Reducing strain on cattle is important because handling stressors can affect weight gain, and also reduce reproductive performance and immune function.1,2 Additionally, livestock move and react more predictably when they are calm and feel secure. Large moving or flapping objects can make animals more difficult to work with, and so can excessive yelling or hollering while moving cattle.1

Good facilities and using a little “cow sense” will streamline any livestock-handling operation. Jody Wade, DVM, Boehringer Ingelheim recommends following these ten cattle-handling guidelines: 

  1. Cattle can be moved quietly by using their natural flight zone. To move them forward, move toward their rear past the shoulder – their point of balance. To stop or back them up in the chute, move forward past their point of balance – ahead of the shoulder.
  2. The load-up ramps should be solidly constructed, with good footing. If they’re slick, or if the cattle are not walking without sliding, it can increase strain and injury to the animal.
  3. Avoid filling a crowding pen more than three-quarters full; cattle need room to move around.
  4. Cattle should easily go up into the chute. If not, it could be because the animals are seeing something that’s distracting them.
  5. Cover the sides of the squeeze chute, especially the back three-quarters, to limit the animal’s side vision.
  6. Keep the processing area clean, and ensure cattle have enough traction to keep from falling.   
  7. Minimize the use of cattle prods. Driving aids, such as flags or rattle paddles, don’t cause a lot of stress, and they get the animal’s attention and keep them moving.
  8. Both horseback and on-foot cattle handling can be effective, as long as you’re consistent. Cattle feel more comfortable with what they’re used to. 
  9. Present a calm disposition. Cattle are prey animals, and they respond accordingly. If they see us as more of a trusted friend, and not a predator, then it decreases their stress overall.
  10. Ship during times when weather is not cold or wet. Work with your trucker, the destination feedlot, backgrounder or stocker to change shipping times, if necessary. 

Despite all the things we try to do to create a smooth cattle-handling process that limits stress, sometimes factors like the weather will throw us a one-two punch, and we’re left needing solutions for sick animals. To prepare for those situations, work with your veterinarian to come up with a treatment plan that includes administering a fast-acting antibiotic like Zactran® (gamithromycin) in a timely fashion.



1 Dennis M, Ebert K. Proper handling and facilities critical to good working relationship. Kansas State University Research and Extension. 1993. Available at: http://www.ag.auburn.edu/~schmisp/safety/handling.htm. Accessed Sept. 10, 2019.

2 Grandin T. Livestock handling guide: Management practices that reduce livestock bruise and injuries and improve handling efficiency. National Institute for Animal Agriculture. Available at: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdard/Livestock_Handling_Guide_454101_7.pdf. Accessed June 29, 2018.