by: Clifford Mitchell

Handling animals correctly has long been at the top of the list at most ranches; despite what the enemies of the beef industry try to tell society. Using sound, safe techniques usually leads to a more efficient operation.

Working with the weather has long been a challenge for most producers. Storms or hot days can shut down ranch crews. During the hotter months of the year, it is important to take the right steps to help relieve stress.

“Don't work cattle in the heat of the day or in the evening. Core body temperatures are highest later in the day. Most think working cattle in the evening is okay, but some research tells us that a cow's core body temperature is still rising,” says Dr. Jane Parish, Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, Mississippi State University.

“Watch the weather and try to pick those cooler days to work cattle. Get out early when it's cool and try to be finished before it starts to get hot,” says Cal Whatley, DCJ Ranch, Auburn, Ala.

“Start early and try to be done early. Move those cattle slow and easy. Make it easy on the crew and easy on the cattle,” says Eddie Parker, Parker Angus Ranch, Waurika, Oklahoma.

Pre-planning helps in a lot of different situations on the ranch be successful, but taking care of the details can make a lot of difference when trying to stay on track and beat the heat. Staying on schedule during hotter temps is practical management.

“The night before call those cattle into a smaller area so all you have to do is walk them into the sorting alley in the morning,” Parker says. “It's critical to have everything ready before you start. Know exactly how long you have before it gets too bad. Hire that day labor, if you need it, ahead of time and make sure your vet knows what time to be there.”

“We have big traps close to our working pens and the cattle will sit there overnight where we just have to walk them in the pens,” Whatley says. “We're not wasting the day trying to gather cows that morning. They are caught and we'll ease them into the pen.”

“Make it easy for the cattle. The night before move those cattle closer to the working facility,” Parish says. “A little pre-planning helps. Look at the calendar and make sure you aren't weaning or vaccinating cattle on the hottest days.”

Common sense and Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) training can also help during the hotter months. Cattlemen can also rely on genetics and work cattle as part of the management routine.

“We have half- and quarter-blood Brahman cattle so the heat isn't as hard on our cows,” Whatley says. “During the hot weather we need to practice really good BQA techniques. Handling vaccines in the heat correctly is very important. We have to keep the cattle from stressing because if the cattle are hot and stressed, the vaccines don't work as well.”

“Select heat tolerant genetics. This gives a little leeway when it's time to get things done in hot weather,” Parish says. “Do a couple things at once, so you aren't making multiple trips through that working facility. If you pull bulls in June and want to pregnancy check those cows 60 days later, August may not be the best time to do it. Wait until you wean those calves or it cools down.”

“Keep plenty of good mineral out for those cows during the hotter months,” Parker says. “Having the right minerals really helps those cattle cope with the heat. Our vet room is climate controlled. We can handle vaccinations correctly or have whatever we need ready.”

It is no secret good working facilities help any operation become more efficient handlers of livestock. A well thought out design and a few simple common sense measures will help cattle be more comfortable during the process.

“Our main set of pens has three sorting alleys and 10 grass traps with water that tie into the alleys,” Parker says. “Trees are at a premium in our area and during the summer time I have to be careful and make sure those cattle go back to the pens with some shade. I have to have shade and water to hold cattle in the heat.”

“It is really important for cattle to have access to water most of the day so they can stay hydrated,” Whatley says. “Fresh water in those pens really helps the cattle handle the heat. Four or five hours in a dry pen is like being all day without water.”

“If cattle are going to be up all day long or for a long period, have water available even if it means setting up temporary tanks. Make sure your lane system to get cattle to the facility is well thought out. It's hard to find experienced help that won't stress the cattle. Make it clear to them what your expectations are,” Parish says. “Centrally located working facilities will really help because you do not have to take a group of cows from one end of the place to the other. Plan your work days to follow the grazing system. Any time you can open a gate and ease them through, it's easier on the cattle.”

Certain operations will have economic advantages with covered facilities that allow cattle to be handled year round. These facilities are helpful in all types of bad weather, but providing shade during the hotter months can be a real benefit.

“There is economic value in a covered, multi-purpose facility. Management can be performed in a timely manner and there is a lot of flexibility because there are multiple uses for the structure,” Parish says. “It doesn't always have to be a metal structure. Shade trees can help. Any time you can provide shade in the work area it's advantageous.”

“We have covered work pens and it is 20 degrees cooler. I can do what I need to without worrying about the weather,” Whatley says. “The volume we handle, it doesn't take long to pay for that building. It allows us to keep cattle in the shade and we don't get rained out. Some might view this as a luxury, but it has economic value to the operation.”

“The barn we put over our working area was a very good investment. Things have to be done on a schedule and in our area with large animal vets you have to work on their schedule. They only have so many days available so we have to eliminate the weather,” Parker says. “It is at least 20 degrees cooler on the hot days. The covered facility takes the stress off the cattle and cowboys.”

Working cattle properly in the staging area will also impact stress levels. Learn the facility and know how many cattle fit comfortably in each pen, limiting numbers and creating air flow will help cattle deal with the heat.

“Pen cattle where some breeze can get to them, air is a big factor when it comes to a big bunch of cows and calves in a pen,” Whatley says. “Make smaller groups so the air can get to them. This will help them stay cool.”

“Cattle in tight areas with not a lot of air movement are just sitting there building heat,” Parish says. “Plan to be finished by 10 a.m. or quit and start again tomorrow.”

During certain times of the year, dust can be a real hindrance to the beef producer. Working cattle through the facility without creating dust may be impossible for some operations. Good facilities and working smart should be advantageous to most outfits.

“A lot will depend on your soil type. Watering the ground is tricky with some soils. Keep some ground cover in your pens and don't use those pens except when you work cows. Some operations will use a little rock or something instead of just soil,” Parish says. “Make sure there is enough room in the pens where the cattle just won't trample what grass is there into dust.”

“A day ahead of time we like to put a little water down in our pens,” Whatley says. “It makes for a long day when cows, horses and cowboys go to sucking in a lot of dust.”

“It's always worthwhile to keep the dust down. This year, since it has been so dry, it might not be feasible to water that alley way and pens down,” Parker says. “I don't want any dust when I am weaning calves. I try to get them out to one of the grass traps so they can eat grass.”

Proper handling provides a lot of benefits to the operation. Sometimes cattle have to be worked in less than ideal conditions. Adapting and adjusting handling practices will help relieve some stress on the cattle. Planning ahead gets the ball rolling most days and most operations do a good job handling livestock under adverse conditions.

“When you're hustling and moving fast, you're creating more adrenaline in those cattle. You may get done a little faster, but was it worth it? Take a few minutes longer and ease them through. Let them graze a little and get some water,” Whatley says. “Have everything that is possible ready ahead of time. The cattle will hinder the plan enough without trying to get the rest of the stuff. I have a plan to start with in the morning and then I just have to adapt as the day goes on.”

“You have to make adjustments throughout the day. Worse case scenario, you just go to the house and make plans for another day. Cattle can ruin even the best laid plans,” Parker says. “Move them close the night before where you know you can get them. Work those cattle slow and easy. It makes the day go smoother.”

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