I’ve read various articles suggesting ideas for reducing stress and shrinkage in calves but none address the stress-related concerns I have.
Some articles mention minimal handling, eliminating hot shots, whips, and sorting sticks while others suggest trying plastic nose clips (on the calves, of course) or fence line weaning. What I want to know is how to eliminate stress in producers. These ideas for calves are all fine and dandy but I say it all begins with stress-free cow-handlers. It’s only logical that there would be a trickle-down effect onto the calves if tension is absent in the handlers.
My family has individual attributes that benefit the whole of our cattle operation in regards to creating a worry-free environment. For instance, on the sale day of our calves, my kids possess the gift of intense distraction, which they commonly use in vehicles. Their marriage-quality bickering distracts my husband and me from anxieties concerning the sale of our calf crop.
My theory on a tension-free ranch family starts with delegating family members the tasks that they enjoy to avoid putting one person in charge of all the work. By entrusting the responsibilities to the ones who like them, it’s only natural they’ll do the best job. I let my husband be the leader because I don’t like being in charge. He enjoys it, is better at it, delegates well and is more comfortable in that position. I’m fine with any ol’ job because I’m used to being lined out and like variety; except running the gate—I hate being the one who “let that calf get through.” I’m good at enforcing early bedtimes prior to big days. A good night’s rest makes it easier to get everybody up and ready and we all think more clearly well-rested. When good moods prevail, the day goes smoother; thus less strain on important mornings.
Being well prepared spares us from getting “pressurized” headaches. I make sure everybody has what they need to be happy and worry-free. Things like my purse and coffee, warm clothing, overshoes, calf-record books, my husband’s chew can, teen quantity snacks and beverages, and a calculator—which I’m told isn’t necessary because it doesn’t matter anyway but am always asked later if I brought one.
A little pre-planning is like insurance. Giving old corrals a once-over to ensure there aren’t any weak spots that might not withstand cows pushing on them is good frustration prevention. Having panels accessible never hurts either. Getting a crew lined up—the kind that’s reliable, knows what they’re doing and has an idea of your gathering and sorting routine—in advance helps reduce the need for help out of desperation and incurring aggravation. Also, choosing a good gateman eliminates extra sorting (again, that would not be me). Of the articles I’ve read, I agree that it’s never a good idea for cattle (or cattlemen), to gather, sort or load in a new location unless you enjoy disasters with calves.
There’s less to worry about if it’s shared amongst everybody. What is worth stressing is that when a stress-free ranch family and crew works harmoniously, this type of sorting sticks because there are no hot shots running the show.