Anyone with animals on their homestead will need to handle them at some point. Injuries caused by livestock on the homestead are very common. Improperly handled, animals can cause the homesteader to be kicked, bitten, trampled or killed. Understanding livestock behavior and proper handling techniques are important for anyone working with livestock. It is inevitable that homesteader handle livestock. Proper handling techniques will keep your livestock and personnel safe.
Understanding animal behavior and the special characteristics of livestock will allow you to handle them safely and efficiently. All animals have a flight zone and point of balance which is important to appreciate whenever dealing with livestock. The point of balance is at an animal’s shoulder and where you are in relation to that point will determine the direction the animal moves. Standing behind the point of balance will cause livestock to move forward. Positioning yourself in front of the balance point will cause backing up.
The flight zone varies from animal to animal. It is a zone around the animal that is the animal’s safe area. Factors that affect the flight zone are: angle of approach, speed of approach, familiarity with the homesteader, distractions,noise, wildness or tameness of the animal and recent experiences. For example, a horse may allow its owner to brush it while a stranger can get no closer than 20 feet before the horse moves away. Your position in the flight zone controls the speed or direction of the animal’s movement and the distance entered.
Most animals will display some type of signal to show if they are fearful, aggressive, or content. These signals can be ear or tail position, raised back hair, bared teeth, pawing the ground or snorting. Several situations can make livestock difficult to handle. Animals with young will display strong maternal instinct and resist attempts to become separated. Young should be kept with the parents whenever possible. Animals handled roughly will likely remember the experience and be more likely to overreact to being handled. Many animals also develop a strong territorial attachment to their pens or pastures. Intrusions into or removal from “their” areas can result in unexpected reactions.
Animals can become quite upset if separated. A better approach is to give these animals some company if possible. Males are generally more dangerous because they are less likely to be in groups, generally larger and often eager to mate. A homesteader should handle all male livestock with extreme caution.