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Low-Stress Livestock Handling Part 2 – Observation, Driving and Parallel Movement With a Focus on Sheep

Last week we shared a video from Boyd Holden about best practices for low-stress sheep handling. Boyd is an animal handling consultant from Australia who covers handling of both cattle and sheep in a series of training videos. I appreciate his approach of starting from the beginning and then sharing techniques in little chunks like you’ll see in the videos below. In addition, the principles he demonstrates here for sheep also hold true for cattle. So, no matter what you raise, these videos will help you hone in on behavior, both the animal’s and yours, that will make handling days less stressful.

In this first 1:40 video, Boyd describes the importance of observation. Before beginning to move animals, it’s helpful to see what their typical behavior is to determine their flight zone and give you clues on how to handle them. You can use that information to ensure that you don’t apply to much or too little pressure to get them moving.

Next, we take a 2:27 look at “mustering” or driving the animals to the pens to be worked. He lays out how to work with your fellow handlers and pace that works well for both you and the sheep. His suggest for having a person in the front of the herd isn’t a technique I’ve used in the past, but I can see how it would have been helpful in some situations I’ve run into. This lead person can also handle the gates and influence the first animals to move through.

Once they’re in the yard, Holden uses the sheep’s tendency to move in a curve around handlers and unfamiliar objects to move them through gates. You’ll notice that they way handlers move is not very different from the way we position ourselves when moving cattle. He also shows how to use parallel movement to encourage sheep to walk through alleyways.

You’ve probably noticed that Boyd and his colleagues have some different practices than you might have seen here in the U.S. The little jumps and the use of the “livestock talker” (that stick with a tassel on the end) are one difference. I think it’s helpful to see that there is more than one right answer for accomplishing a task.

What are some of the adaptations you’ve used? Share them in the comments below!

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