When I joined my husband and his family here at Arhart Farms, I would catch tidbits of stories reminiscing what it was like when they first started artificially inseminating in the 1960s or the first time they used ultrasound to project out marketing dates for their feedlot cattle over two decades ago. I began to realize the drive they had to continually improve their business.
Along with this meant years of seeking information from the experts to improve on cattle handling. My husband happily describes many years of his childhood as “all we did was work cattle”. They were regularly shipping fat cattle and getting more in their place that needed processed. They made handling changes based on the research that was out there that was widely focused on facility design.
Many years later, when I joined the operation and we first met Dr. Tom Noffsinger, we found ourselves with the industry standard equipment, in fact, our feedlot facilities were beautiful. However, we were still struggling, fighting and working way too hard. Sure it was okay sometimes and I thought we did a good job.
Here is a sampling of how our mindset changed over the past several years...
1. Our heavy duty, lots of metal facilities were a crutch, an attempt to make a problem better without fixing the root of the problem. I didn’t know how to control and communicate with our cattle out in the pen or pasture so I was going to struggle inside the facilities as well-no matter what the facilities were like. The heavy duty facilities allowed me to force cattle through when I had no training or skills. Now, I see closed up facilities as a communication barrier between us and our cattle.
2. We focused on minimizing distractions in our facilities. If the cattle balked at a distraction they wouldn’t go in or move up in the alleyway/chute, right? When we knew how to get that calf or cow focused on us they wouldn’t even give the distraction much of a thought. It’s just a decision point and my actions as a handler before that point will determine whether the decision is yes or no. If the cattle trust us it’s amazing what they’ll do for us. We’ll never be able to control all of the distractions, so it’s easier to learn to control the cattle instead.
3. We were replacing “skill” and the ability to communicate with our cattle (and pigs) with more crutches-sticks, paddles, flags and hot shots. Add stockmanship skills and work crutch free. We haven’t used a hot shot on our cattle for over ten years.
4. There are only a few remnants left of the plywood experts instructed us to put up so the cattle couldn’t see us. As we learned stockmanship skills, we were able to use cattle being able to see us as an ADVANTAGE-adding to our control. Same for facilities. We were working way too hard to hide.
5. We were using extra labor as a crutch to “force” cattle where we wanted them to go. Once we learned stockmanship skills, each of us could go out by ourselves and use body language to get the cattle in and even sorted, or get them into the corral and bring a string up into the holding pen. Whatever was needed. Now one person brings in the cattle and the rest of the crew can show up when it’s time to process.
Weaning was the process of taking the calf away from it’s mother. Anxiety, bawling and pacing were expected for a couple days. Now it is the process of introducing ourselves as the new caregiver and using stockmanship skills to convince the calf they are right where they want to be and it’s a comfortable, safe place with plenty to eat and drink. This has really helped us with the bawling calves we receive right off the truck.
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Cattle Handling & Stockmanship Skills
Melissa Arhart - Arhart Feedlot Technologies - Arhart Farms Inc. - Alpena, SD 57312
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