Invest in less stress for livestock

01 November 2017

Boyd Holden, a trainer in best practice livestock handling techniques, maintains that low-stress stock handling is a new term for old concepts practised for centuries.

“None of what we teach is new. It’s all commonsense but, with increasing emphasis on animal welfare and workplace safety, more businesses are recognising how important it is to have a system for interacting with stock that all employees and animals understand,” he said.

Based on the family farm at Old Bonalbo in the NSW Northern Rivers region, Boyd runs his own livestock handling and welfare consultancy service and works with the entire red meat value chain. From producers and feedlots right through to processors and the live export industry, he trains stock handlers to adopt a best practice system aimed at handling animals in the safest way possible.

 “The key areas to address are always people, livestock, infrastructure and circumstances. By that, I mean ‘what are you trying to achieve?’” Boyd said.

The people

“People need to work as a team and have a system that everyone understands and rarely changes.

“A system describes how things are done – it’s not a plan. An example of a plan is pregnancy testing or calf marking, where the system is relied on to carry out tasks.”

Boyd said it is paramount stock handlers don’t rush, communicate clearly and work calmly and quietly.

“Adding speed increases risk and playing the blame game doesn’t help,” he said.

“If things aren’t working, stop and examine what you’re doing.

“The true test of the mettle of any man or woman is how they react when things aren’t going well.”

The animals

Boyd also emphasised the importance of investing time in training stock, teaching them how to travel at a walk and to cope with their natural fight and flight responses.

“Animals can learn to cope with stress and fear, but not pain,” he said.

Dangerous situations can also be avoided by not isolating individual animals.

“They need their mates. If you need to do something to one animal, take a few,” he said.

Boyd believes good temperament should be a basic expectation of a herd and that any ‘difficult’ animals should be removed.

When selecting sires, referring to their ‘docility’ estimated breeding values can also improve the likelihood of breeding quieter stock.

The equipment

According to Boyd, infrastructure can make a huge difference to workplace safety and animal welfare outcomes.

“Three words: invest, invest and invest,” he said.

“Buy the best quality cattle crush you can afford and always have a slide gate which is a maximum of an animal’s length behind the crush.

“A race length should be no more than 6–8 cows, and don’t fill the forcing yard to any more than 50% of its capacity.

“Invest in good overall yard design based on the purpose you will be using it for, and make it for a greater capacity than the numbers of stock.

“Put shade over the race, crush and calf cradle area and incorporate water into as many yards as you can.

“Build designated yards for weaning and feeding cattle.”

For improved safety, Boyd suggested installing positive, lateral slam-shut gates fitted with a chain in any high-pressure areas where timing of shutting a gate is important. He also said all yards should have emergency escapes or exit strategies incorporated into their design.


Boyd Holden
T: 0429 653 280

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