Promoting low-stress
cattle handling and stockmanship skills

Improving stockmanship skills for cattle & pigs

Introduction: Why Stockmanship Skills?

I am promoting a concept that has allowed us to “get control” of our cattle here on our cow-calf, feedlot and stocker ranching operation.  Now, I’m not just talking about control of their movement while we are handling them but we’ve also gained more control of their performance and health.  Yes, we were skeptical at first too.

   Dr. Tom Noffsinger, a feedlot vet from Nebraska, used statistics, his own experiences, and actual demonstrations when he would visit, to ultimately convince us that we were accepting too many things as “normal”.  I soon realized that our industry as a whole was doing this.

   This revelation made us step back from the overload of science that we were using to over-manage and to quick fix a “problem” without fixing or addressing the root of the problem.  I learned from Bud Williams, another stockmanship master, that when we quick fix a problem enough times it becomes normal.  This “normal” is then accepted as the new standard.  We were using the same (quick fix) industry standards as a guide for management. 

   We, like many in the industry, were focused on our meticulous husbandry skills as well as continually incorporating the many new modern conveniences and science based information into our operation.  Yeah, we were on top of things but were missing out on one major thing.  Our stockmanship skills, the “art” of working with our stock was barely there. 

   Sure we’ve always been on the low stress handling bandwagon.  Being calm and quiet is common sense (as I’m told by many) and slower is of course faster, oh we did that.  If the cattle “cooperated” we’d be calm and quiet the whole time.  No problem-an enjoyable day. 

   However, if the cattle didn’t cooperate then at a certain point the quietness and calmness would dissipate.  About the same time we’d inform each other that the cattle are stupid, the gate is in the wrong place, or the facilities are at fault.  Sometimes there’s even the blame game “if you just would have been over there”!  Never once did I think it’s not the cattle, nor the gate or facilities.  It’s all me-the cattle were only acting upon their instinct based on my actions.

   So, for those of you who are seriously looking to improve your handling skills, it is important to know there are some very specific techniques and concepts you can learn to apply that are very effective.   I can be calm and quiet all day but I will not have the specific control that results from the techniques I use now.

   Since we first met Dr. Tom Noffsinger several years ago we’ve come a long way with our stockmanship skills.  Now we can do things so the cattle react the way we want them to.  We’ve reduced labor a lot.  Our standard for getting cattle out of our pastures, feedlot pens or holding pen is now one person.  Processing cattle is laid back and a lot less work-we enjoy it.  Sometimes cattle will volunteer to go through our facilities.  Our cattle perform better.  Even the unweaned high risk calves do good.  We know exactly what we need to do to get them performing our way right away.  And if an issue arises we always look for the root of the problem.  We take a lot of pride in our stockmanship skills and we are always trying to improve and learn more.                 

    In addition to the changes in our cattle operation, as crazy as it sounds we’ve been able to make leaps and bounds in how we handle our pigs in our three finishing barns as well.  It’s the same concept that we apply to the cattle with a little different twist as taught by Nancy Lidster of White Fox, Saskatchewan.

   After Nancy raised pigs for 20 years and experienced the struggles of handling them, which many of us know all too well, she worked hard to develop a curriculum to teach people a different way.  She has some great resources for producers, truckers and packers on her website at 


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