Dead cows donŹt lie!

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Dr Temple GrandinŹs approach to cattle welfare and handling ╬ how cattle see and think and remember!


Dr Lana Kaiser and Dr Dan Grooms

Michigan State University


Animal welfare and handling issues continue to be a hot topic in the cattle industry.  Dr Temple Grandin, one of the worlds authority on livestock handling, facilities, and animal welfare,   spent several days in East Lansing, discussing her research and philosophy. Her visit was sponsored by Dr ZanellaŹs Animal Behavior and Welfare Group in the Department of Animal Science and MSUŹs Ag Experiment Station. Over 100 faculty, students and producers were on hand to hear her Friday afternoon talk. After attending many of her talks and visiting with her one-on-one, we would like to share some her crucial take home points


How cattle think and see ╬ stress and fear

­      Cattle feel pain and feel fear

­      Cattle notice the little things that people donŹt notice. Cattle are Ćinto detailsö. A hanging chain, a puddle, a shadow or a coat on a fence can result in cattle becoming fearful and not doing or moving like people want

­      Cattle are afraid of areas where light and dark are contrasted┘Translation┘Trying to move cattle from a well-lighted area into a dark area is next to impossible

­      Cattle are afraid of rapid movement.  Rapid silent movement, like a kid on a bike, is particularly scary

o      Slow deliberate movement will significantly reduce flighty behavior

o      One way to counteract cattle sensitivity to rapid movement is to block their vision at critical points in animal handling facilities.  This is the basis for solid sided ally ways.

­      To cattle, yelling and screaming is as aversive (stressful) as a hot shot

­      Cattle are extremely sensitive to high-pitched noises such as screaming, metal banging and hydraulic motors.  Reduce these noises and cattle are likely to stay calmer

­      Cattle have fear memories ╬ they will associate bad experiences with a place, a situation, or a specific or generic person ╬ Translation┘..If a man with a cowboy hat causes a cow to experience pain, the cow may associate pain with either the specific man or all men in cowboy hats

­      Cattle are not color blind, but they probably see a limited spectrum of colors.  They do seem to be extremely sensitive to yellow and green and react stronger to these colors.

­      Cattle are very afraid of falling.  Providing flooring that reduces slipping and falling will help to reduce fear.

­      When exposed to a novel situation or thing, cattle will be attracted if allowed to approach voluntarily, but if it is put Ćin their faceö it will result in fear

­      There appears to be a relationship between bone size and temperment.  The larger the bone structure, the less high strung the temperment.

­      The best way to reduce stress in cattle is to train animals in a non-threatening manner.



Things to think about for 4H and show cattle

­      Socalize calves when young

­      First exposure to novel things should be a good one

­      Expose you calves to all those things you think they might encounter ╬ how many times have we heard Ćbut they never do that at homeö?

­      Flighty animals need to be trained and exposed to novel thing

­      Rapid silent movement, like a kid on a bike, is particularly scary ╬ expose your calves to bicycles!

­      Cattle seem to be very afraid of things that flutter in the air.  Balloons and flags can be hazardous at county fairs ╬ expose your calf to balloons and flags!

­      Low stress handling involves training to be worked in a cooperative manner

­      Reward positive behavior


Humane slaughter:

­               It appears that the amount of stress that cattle are under in a well run slaughter plant is no more than that when placed in a cattle-handling chute at home.

­               A rule of thumb when working cattle:  90% of cattle should enter handling facility with out the use of and electric prod and 75% of cattle should walk out of handling chute as opposed to running out.  If the number of cattle meeting these requirements is less, then handling procedures and facilities need to be evaluated.


Additional tidbits!


­               The lowest stress way to move cattle is to teach them to lead. If your cattle are calm and have a very little flight zone and you canŹt drive them, teach them to follow you (like you are the boss cow)

­               Reward wanted behavior; donŹt reward unwanted behavior

­               When a bull does something you donŹt like, determine his motivation ╬ is it curiosity or aggression? Aggressive behavior by a bull towards a human should result in a one way ride ╬ there are no excuses for bulls to be aggressive toward humans.

­               ĆBad becoming normalö -   gradual changes in conformation, structure, temperment, or behavior that becomes acceptable to producers and the industry. This is often the result of genetic selection for specific production traits, at the expense of the Ćwhole animalö

­               The swirl ╬ on the forehead of cattle is a spiral swirl of hair called the whorl; research shows that cattle with whorls above the eyes are more excitable than those with whorls at or below the eyes!

­               So (all things being equal) a light boned calf with a high whorl will be more excitable and flighty that a heavy boned calf with a low whorl. Which calf would be the best choice for a shy 1st time 4Her?


Some of the largest users of cattle have made animal welfare a priority issue with their suppliers.  Some of these users include fast food restraints McDonalds, Burger King, and WendyŹs and Safeway grocery stores.  Although currently the focus is on humane slaughter in the beef industry, it is likely that continued pressure on the industry will eventually force all cattle producers to meet and exceed animal welfare guidelines in order to market their products.


There is lots of great information on Livestock Behavior, Design of Facilities
and Humane Slaughter at Dr. GrandinŹs eb page

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