low-stress livestock handling

What Is Low-Stress Livestock Handling?

What exactly is low-stress livestock handling? How does it work? And what are the benefits?

If you work in the livestock industry you have no doubt heard of low-stress livestock handling – but you might have wondered what exactly it entails and, importantly, how it works.

Both Dr. Temple Grandin, a world-renowned animal scientist, and Bud Williams, a livestock handling expert, are credited with first developing and championing low-stress livestock handling (also known as LSLH).

Low-stress livestock handling is based on handling animals in a way that does not cause them unnecessary stress, and there are a few key principles which underlies this which we discuss in this article.

This article also discusses how low-stress livestock handling works and the benefits of using these techniques with cattle and sheep.

How does low-stress livestock handling work?

The goal of low-stress livestock handling is to make the animal feel comfortable and safe at all times. This is done by using quiet voices, slow movements and minimal restraint. When an animal feels comfortable and relaxed, it will be less likely to resist or become agitated. As a result, low-stress livestock handling makes working with livestock quicker and easier and can help reduce injuries to both animals and handlers.

Low-stress livestock handling methods & techniques

When using low-stress techniques, handlers should move slowly and calmly around the animals, and avoid sudden movements or loud noises. Handlers should also avoid touching and handling the animals unnecessarily.

When sick or injured animals need to be handled, low-stress handling techniques are especially important, as these animals are more susceptible to stress, and stress could worsen their condition or slow down the recovery process. 

Here are some ways you can ensure your livestock handling is low-stress and does not agitate the animals:

  • Avoid sudden movements or loud noises
  • If an animal appears to be agitated, stop what you are doing and back away slowly
  • Make sure you are calm and collected before approaching the animals
  • Move slowly and deliberately around the animals
  • Only touch the animals when necessary
  • Seek professional help when animals are sick or injured

For more detailed recommendations, below are links to some of Dr Temple Grandin’s livestock handling research and articles. 

low-stress livestock handling

Understanding Flight Zone and Point of Balance
Low Stress Method for Leading Cattle in Rotational Mob Grazing Systems
Using Animals Follow the Leader Instinct
Identify Common Distractions That Impede Movement
Improving Animal Movement
Using Prods and Persuaders Properly
Preventing Injuries and Bruises
Importance of Reducing Noise
Moving Cattle out of Pens and Sorting
Grazing Without Fences and Placing Cattle
Bud William’s Technique For Moving Cattle On Pasture
Steve Cote – Stockmanship and Handling Cattle on the Range
Preventing Bull Accidents
Introducing Animals to New Experiences
Is Acting like a Predator Low Stress Cattle Handling?
Assessment of Temperament in Cattle
Solving Behavior Problems: Questions and Answers
Understanding Motivation of Cattle and Horses
Link to Temple Grandin’s video collection on Livestock Handling

What are the principles behind low-stress stock handling?

The fundamental principles behind low-stress stock handling are based on reducing the fear and stress animals feel when they are being handled. Low-stress stock handling techniques aim to make the handling process as calm and gentle as possible for the animals.

According to Progressive Cattle, low-stress livestock handling is based on twelve main principles:

1. Keep animals in a normal frame of mind.

2. Animals should not be forced to do anything they do not want to do or are not ready to do.

3. Set up every situation so our idea becomes their idea.

4. Animals want to avoid pressure, and they need to experience release from pressure.

5. They want to be in a herd.

6. They want to move in the direction they are headed.

7. They want to follow other animals.

8. Good movement attracts good movement.

9. Animals want to see what’s pressuring them.

10. They want to see where you want them to go.

11. They want to go by you or around you.

12. Under excess pressure, they want to go back where they came from. 

Undercover cattle yards with gable infill

How does yard design affect low-stress stock handling?

Effective yard design is also key in low-stress livestock handling. Ideally your yard design should take into account the natural behaviour of sheep and cattle and use this to your advantage to help with the flow of livestock through the yards.

Keeping cattle shaded and sheep sheltered when in the yards can also help reduce stress – and covered yards make for better working conditions too!

There is a plethora of benefits associated with low-stress livestock handling, some of which we have already briefly discussed. Keep reading to learn more. 

What are the benefits of low-stress stock handling?

Some of the main benefits and advantage of implementing low-stress livestock handling include improved occupational health and safety, improved productivity and meat quality and a reduced risk of disease by reducing the amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) in the animal’s body – cortisol can weaken the immune system, making animals more susceptible to illness.

In contrast to a low-stress environment, “excessive stress in cattle leads to reduced productivity, such as low liveweight gains, low conception rates, low milk yields, high pre-weaning mortalities and high susceptibility to disease.”

Misconceptions of low-stress handling

This article from Drovers, by Whit Hubbard, is an interesting read, and outlines the common misconceptions of low-stress stock handling, which include:

  • It’s a slower, quieter version of what I already do
  • “Low stress” means “no stress”
  • In LSLH we let our livestock do what they want
  • In LSLH we ask our livestock to do what we want
  • To work livestock in a low-stress manner we can’t apply a
    lot of pressure on our animals
  • Working livestock in a low-stress manner takes too much time
  • It’s not low stress if you are assertive with your livestock
  • Animals shouldn’t move fast

Each of these misconceptions are explained and clarified, here

We hope this article has helped to explain what low-stress livestock handling is and how it works! For more articles like this, browse our Learning Hub where you can also find the latest videos and brochures.

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