How to lower stress in grazing cattle

By: Dr. Zalmen Hankin // August 2022

The understanding within the livestock industry that animal stress is an important issue that must be addressed, is strengthening. With implications for animal health, well-being, and productivity, minimizing animal stress through improved animal management procedures and/or selective breeding is becoming an important issue (Chen et al., 2015). Stress occurs when animals have to make extreme and/or prolonged physiological and behavioral adjustments in order to cope with their environment while causing their body to release adrenaline and cortisol hormones. These chemicals cause heart rate and respiration to speed up and suppress the immune system.
There are various causes of stress, which include: heat stress, animal restraint, long confinement in lock-ups, adjustment to unknown environments, calving, diseases/sickness, transportation, and forceful herding management. If a stressor persists or occurs repeatedly then a change of the homeostatic state may result in psychological and physiological pathology (Chen et al., 2015). Signs of stress in cattle can easily be detected by a skilled herder, but, it is not easy to measure and quantify stress rates while grazing out in the open rangeland. In order to evaluate stress in cattle, it is possible by monitoring their behavior features using visual observations while observing each individual, or by observing their social behavioral characteristics in the herd. In addition, it is also possible, but not simple, by using physiological measures as cortisol, which is a stress hormone, this will show low levels in animals under low stress and greater in stressed animals (Grandin and Shivley, 2015).
drones for livestock management
drone flying over cattle herd in an open pasture
Common management procedures often create short-term stress, but for a carefully acclimated and well-managed animal, stress will be low. Animals that have had no previous experience with being restrained may react violently and physiological stress indicators will be high. Decreasing stress is one of the main issues for Improving animal wellbeing. This could be done by coordinating physiological processes which maintain the steadiest state for the animals with the least disturbance to their typical routine. As so producers and their veterinarians should aim for reducing lock-up time, and general handling of the livestock in a calm and quiet manner with specifically gentle group movements.
Drone moving cattle herd
Autonomous drone moving cattle herd over pasture

There are benefits in applying a calmer way of handling the cows while keeping the animals under low-stress levels. Autonomous drone herding, which is now developed by Beefree Agro is a new technic that one of its aims is to reduce cattle stress. Eye observations during drone herding, show much calmer behavior attitudes of the cows, compared to the authentic herding by cowboys on horseback and dogs, and will take over as a modern superior system for managing cattle in open rangelands under lower stress conditions.

References Chen, Y., Arsenault, R., Napper, S. and Griebel, P. (2015). Models and Methods to Investigate Acute Stress Responses in Cattle. Animals, 5: 1268-1295. Grandin, T. and Shivley, C. (2015). How farm animals react and perceive stressful situations such as handling, restraint, and transport. Animals, 5: 1233-1251.