By Kindra Gordon

Livestock specialist Ron Gill has frequently demonstrated how moving a group of a dozen yearling heifers down an alley and through a chute can be done calmly and quietly when low stress cattle handling principles are utilized. Gill, who is employed by Texas AgriLife Extension, can walk heifers through a chute and alley three times – without ever raising his voice, all in a matter of 45 minutes.

For producers who aspire to achieve that type of low stress animal handling, Gill emphasizes his movement is about putting pressure on – or off – a group of animals to get them to move. Pressure is applied by moving toward or away from the front half of an animal’s body. “I deal with the eye and the ear of the animal. Once their head responds to me, all of my communication is with the front four inches of their head – the rest of the animal’s body will follow,” Gill shares.

His preference is to work from the side or front of a group of cattle. He explains that when you stand behind the group they simply start to circle. “Don’t go behind cattle to empty a pen. You want to draw them to you, and release them. Find that balance point [at the front of the animal or group of animals] and move in to stop them and move out to release them to go forward. Start training them this way,” he advises.

Gill adds, “The more you work with your cattle, the easier it is to get them to move where you want them to…If you have a good set of replacement heifers spend time training them.”

“The first time through the chute, you want them to just flow through,” he shares, and suggests leaving the front head catch open and just letting heifers calmly walk through the system. He adds, “If we can get heifers through the chute quiet and calm, it shouldn’t be a big deal to go back.” 

Specifically, Gill suggests acclimating animals to go through the alley and chute a few times prior to the actual processing or breeding day. He shares that some research has shown a 10% boost to pregnancy rates among heifers that were handled with low stress methods and were acclimated to the chute.

Additional low stress cattle handling pointers from Gill:

• Get all animals facing the same direction or it will be more difficult to move the group where you want them. 

• If animals are queued up in an alley and are not moving forward into the chute, try walking from the front of the alley, down along the side toward the last animal in the queue – Gill says that they will then move forward. 

• Gill said having a solid side on one side of the alley system can be beneficial because it may prevent animals in the alley from seeing cattle or people moving the opposite direction. That said, he does not advocate solid sides on everything, and expressed, “We’ve gotten way too enamored with solid sides.”

• Regarding sweep tubs, Gill explained for smaller systems he prefers a 135° sweep, which better mimics the large 270° sweeps. Both systems bring cattle just a little past the alley and then points them to the way out through the alley. He’s found the 90° or 180° sweep allow too much room for cattle to start a circling motion instead of finding the alley.

• Gill also comments that for gentle cattle the sweep tub works well, for cattle that are more high-strung, he prefers to use a Bud Box.

• Another rule he emphasizes – don’t put more stock in the sweep tub than will fit in the lead up alley to the chute.

In closing Gill notes, “When cattle don’t cooperate, it’s not their fault. It’s our fault. Look at yourself [your actions] and do something different. If we ask them right, it’s easier to get them through a system.”

He adds, “Normally cows will figure it out, if you stop putting pressure on them in the wrong place. Give them time to think their way through it.”

Additionally, he advises, “If you want something entertaining, film yourself working cattle sometime.” Lastly, Gill suggests, “Ask yourself, ‘What would Gill say?’ Don’t make it complicated.”