Script 36.7


Do you handle your animals with care? An animal that is handled with care will produce more milk, more offspring, and more meat. When animals are stressed they need special care, for example when they are being moved.

Moving livestock
Here are some helpful hints to remember when moving livestock. First, use your head before your stick. Make your animals think they are going where they want to go. It is easier to move an animal towards its feed than away from its feed. Before moving livestock try putting fresh feed in the new pen or the loading truck.

It is easier to walk your livestock home than away from home and animals would rather walk uphill than downhill. It is also easier to guide an animal towards the light. Animals see, hear, and smell differently than people. Because they do not see objects the same way we do, they are afraid of shadows, dark areas, and sudden movements. Animals will feel safe if the person herding them walks quietly and does not get too close.

Animals like being together. It is easier to move an animal towards other animals than away from them. If you want to catch an animal that belongs to a herd, it may be best to move the whole herd into a small pen first, instead of trying to catch one animal alone in a large area. Each animal herd has its own social structure. Do not excite animals when you are moving them. Let them keep some distance between small groups. For example, it is stressful for cattle if calves get separated from their mothers or if shy animals are crowded close to aggressive ones. If you are using a horse to herd your sheep, goats, or cattle, ride the horse in a zig zag pattern far enough behind the herd so that the animals will move slowly and not be scared. Most herd animals are scared of dogs. If you are using herding dogs, train them to work far enough away so they are effective without frightening the animals.

Working with pigs
Here’s an effective way to move a pig if you have help. Find two large pieces of material that the pig can’t see through. These pieces of material let’s call them panels can be cardboard, matting, woven bamboo slats, or wood. The panels should be one metre long and at least half a metre wide. Two helpers hold the panels close to the sides of the pig in such a way that the pig cannot see anything beside it but the panels. Walk behind the pig gently tapping it on the shoulders. With nothing in front of it, the pig will walk forward in the direction that it is guided by your helpers.

If you are moving a pig only a short distance, try the bucket method. Cover the pig’s head with a bucket or a pail and then you can back it up wherever you want it to go. The pig does not like the darkness in front of it and it is willing to back up.

Working with donkeys
Donkeys can be trained to walk quietly beside you. Encourage a donkey to lead by giving short tugs on the lead rope. If the donkey moves forward, keep the rope slack, especially if he continues to follow you. This rewards the donkey because there is no pressure on him. A donkey will resist if you are constantly pulling on the rope.

If you are training a donkey, a rope around his rump can put pressure on his back end whenever he is stubborn. This irritates him and he will move forward to get away from the pressure on his rump. Again, reward him by releasing the pressure as soon as he steps forward. This method will work best if you have helpers. DO NOT CAUSE PAIN when training donkeys. They will remember the pain and be afraid of you and never want to follow willingly.

Communicating with livestock
Do you yell at your cattle? Do you beat your donkey? The people who have the least trouble moving their animals don’t yell at them or treat them roughly. Be calm and quiet when you are close to your animals. Walk slowly and carefully towards them. Sudden movements and noises can scare livestock and cause them to run away. If you crouch down when approaching animals you can get close without scaring them. Reduce stress when possible. Animals become restless when they are separated from other animals. Isolate animals from the rest of the herd only when necessary. Get to know your animals and their normal behaviour. By knowing your livestock you will be able to identify illnesses and problem behaviours such as tailbiting before they become serious.

Animals that are always handled with gentle and calm methods will be gentle, calm animals. They will be less stressed and easier to work with. Remember, a happy animal is a healthy and productive animal. Handle with care!


This script was written by Anne Campbell Janz, Toronto, Canada. It was reviewed by Dale Perkins, Heifer Project International.

Information Sources

“Low stress livestock handling”, presentation by Dale Perkins, at the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Summer Conference, August 1995, Hampshire, Massachusetts, U.S.A. Dale Perkins is Farm Steward with Heifer Project International. He can be contacted at the Northeast Learning and Livestock Centre, Overlook Farm, 216 Wachusett St., Rutland, MA, U.S.A.

Handling pigs – DCFRN Package 7, Script 7, 1983.