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Stockmanship Tips

Tom Noffsinger offers tips to work with animal behavior for low-stress handling.

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (Nov. 4, 2015) — People are the key in stockmanship, not steel and concrete, said Tom Noffsinger. The veterinarian and animal-handling expert gave stockmanship tips to attendees of the Merck-sponsored Angus University workshops at the Angus Means Business National Convention & Trade Show in Overland Park, Kan., Nov. 3-5, 2015. He demonstrated his tips with live cattle in the animal-handling area in part of the Trade Show.

A relationship of respect and courtesy is the cornerstone of good stockmanship. Cattle want to please and crave guidance. Stockmen give this guidance by calmly applying pressure and then saying “thank you” by releasing that pressure when the objective has been met, he explained.

Cattle want to see the source of the pressure — the stockman — and the destination. Noffsinger is not a fan of solid walls because this limits their vision and stresses them. He explained that cattle have horizontal pupils. When their head is down while grazing, they have 360° peripheral vision. When they raise their head, the peripheral vision deceases to 270°. He warned against being on catwalks when cattle enter the feedlot because that makes them raise their head.

Additionally, he said that cattle do not have much depth perception, so standing still doesn’t help get cattle to where you want them. Slightly rocking from foot to foot creates motion and lets cattle see you more easily.

To work cattle, he suggested working from the front. When a calf’s head turns toward you, move forward to gain their attention and straighten their head, then work back toward their shoulder to encourage forward movement, Noffsinger advises. Move from front to back to increase their motion, and parallel movement to stop motion.

Cattle will go around you if they can see their destination, and this behavior makes a “Bud Box” work well. (For more information on Bud Boxes, check out the Angus Journal article “In Search of the Perfect Working Facility.”) When possible, Noffsinger recommends working a Bud Box on the left side of the animal.

The optic nerves in a bovine animal cross the brain, so what the animal sees from its right eye goes to the left side of the brain, and what it sees from its left eye goes to the right side of the brain. Like humans, cattle process things more calmly in the right side of the brain. Working cattle on their left side will help them remain calm.

When training and acclimating cattle, Noffsinger urged cattlemen to not be a nuisance and to give short lessons. This applies to training cattle to lead. His grandchildren, he shared, get their show calves to stop, start and walk with them before they even come close to the calves with a halter. This lets the cattle build a relationship with them before being stressed with a halter. An easy way to tell if a calf is comfortable is if they duck their head and lick their lips.

For more information on stockmanship and low-stress animal-handling methods, Noffsinger created 10 training modules with Merck Animal Health. The modules can be accessed at

Editor’s Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of the Angus Journal, which maintains the copyright. To request permission to reprint, please contact Shauna Hermel at 816-383-5270.