The originator of low-stress livestock handling (LSLH), Bud Williams, stressed the importance of five requisite elements or foundational layers of LSLH (see Figure below). In the last article we considered the first layer, mindset. In this article we will look at attitude, which Bud considered “more important than skill level.”
“Pre-Bud” I never thought about it—nor did anyone else I worked with—but just as with mindset, attitude is vitally important but generally undervalued and under-appreciated. Bud insisted that “low-stress livestock handling is more than just a technique of working livestock; it’s an attitude about working livestock.”
So, what does Bud mean by “attitude”? There are five essential attributes:
In order to do low-stress livestock handling, we first need a positive attitude; that is, we need to believe that it works and that we can do it. If we have a negative attitude and believe that it won’t work or we can’t do it, then, alas, that’s what will happen; it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. According to Bud, “Your attitude will create more problems than anything else, but if you have a good attitude you can solve almost any problem.”
To effectively work livestock, we have to do so with determination; that is, with resolve, purposefulness, and single-mindedness. As Ray Hunt, the master horseman, famously said about horses: “They know when you know and they know when you don’t know.” Bud would say the same about cattle. Therefore, it is important to convey to our animals that we know what we are doing, and we do that by projecting a strong sense of determination. “You have to go in with determination and no time frame and work with the animals, then it’s easy. Go out with the attitude that nothing can stop me from doing this.”
According to Bud, cattle want a confident person they can trust working them: “Now they have something that they can count on.” Don’t be concerned about doing it, just be confident that you can, and that will positively effect the outcome. “If you have a built-in excuse before you go to do something you have a built-in road to failure. You’ve already decided that you’ll probably fail, and you already have an excuse if you do fail, and so you quite often do.”
Similarly, “Don’t be indecisive when you’re working animals because they pick up on it immediately. If you’re not sure of yourself, they’re not sure, and when they’re not sure, they can be darn difficult to get them to do what you want. Being tentative is a killer.”
If we want to succeed at LSLH, “We must decide that we’re going to do it, and we commit to doing it.” LSLH is not a quick fix. Rather, it is a lifetime study. Some stockmen just want a few new techniques to help them work their livestock better without fundamentally changing their attitude or what they do. However, to understand and do LSLH properly, conventional livestock handlers have to radically change their attitude and what they do, which takes a serious commitment. For those schooled in conventional livestock handling, the transition to LSLH requires a profound and often difficult attitudinal adjustment. Many experience resistance–as I did–which is natural enough given that they have to admit that much of what they know about livestock handling, and may have spent years practicing, is obsolete.
The Right Attitude Makes Cents
Bud argues that animals are extremely sensitive to our attitude, which has serious ramifications for how they handle, their well-being, health and performance. Unfortunately, few stockmen recognize that our attitude, and subsequent actions, have consequences for our livestock. This contention is supported by scientific research which has shown that there is, in fact, a relationship between the attitude and consequent behavior of the stockman towards cows and the behavioral response back to the stockman, which affects production and performance (Breuer, et al., 2000). For instance, it is now known that negative handler attitude that results in aversive handling can significantly decrease live weight gain, immune function, conception rates, and milk yield. In Bud’s personal experience, he found a direct correlation between the incidence of sickness in calves in feedyards and the attitude of the handler, and claimed that “at least 80% of the sickness is caused by the attitude of the people.” As a consequence, he said that it is important to be enthusiastic and upbeat when working them. In other words, “Smile and mean it.”
In summary, proper mindset (discussed in the last column) coupled with proper attitude are two essential prerequisites of LSLH. In their absence, everything else forthcoming in this column likely will be either misunderstood, misapplied, or ineffective.
What do you think?
Right about now, we’re guessing you have some ideas about how your attitude has affected your success handling stock, and maybe some suggestions too about what has worked for you or what didn’t work so well. Everybody in the On Pasture Community would love to hear your take. So feel free to add to the comments below.
Here are the other articles in this series:
 Breuer, K., Hemsworth, P.H., Barnett, J.L., Matthews, L.R., Coleman, G.J. (2000). Behavioural response to humans and the productivity of commercial dairy cows. Applied Animal Behavior Science,66, 273–288.