Merck’s Creating Connections website aims to help producers grasp the most simple and functional forms of unspoken body language used by cattle as a way to improve the working relationship between animal and caregiver. The site uses cattle-handling techniques developed by leading stockmanship experts in the world beef industry.

Cooper david
Managing Editor / Progressive Cattle

By learning and observing cattle behavior and body language, caregivers can impact their livestock with the smallest influence and keep cattle patient and calm with less stress – both for animals and humans.

Key experts involved in the website video modules and presentations include:

  • Tom Noffsinger, DVM, is a renowned Nebraska feedyard veterinarian who has spent decades working with ranches and feedlots on low-stress cattle handling, and a veterinary consultant for Production Animal Consultation.
  • Paulo Loureiro, DVM, is with the global ruminants business unit of Merck. He is a Brazilian expert in herd health, well-being and performance.
  • Kev Sullivan, BVSc, is a consultant for feedlots in eastern Australia, specializing in animal handling and heat stress management.

Creating Connections has partnered with Kansas State University to develop 10 educational modules through 2016. Visitors can go to the Creating Connections website and register for a password, and then log in to learn from the modules.

Each module includes instruction videos and a quiz to test participants’ knowledge, and upon passing, provides a certificate they can print.


“We know that low-stress handling positively impacts an animal’s immunity and resistance to disease,” says Rick Sibbel, director of tech veterinary services at Merck Animal Health. “A low-stress environment is better for the cattle and is much better for the handlers.

“Through Creating Connections, we are working to make more cattlemen aware of and offer them more tools, to help them and their employees continuously improve the way they interact with their herds, with their animals. And their employees are also benefitting from low-stress cattle handling.”

A key theme in Creating Connections is to help producers develop “nothing in the hands” stockmanship, where silent and subtle motions from the handler foster trust in animals and allow them to exhibit their natural habits and instincts. “No sticks or paddles are used,” Sibbel explains. “The end result is cattle are more calm, so they are easier to handle, easier to diagnose and easier to manage.”


Among the first education video modules developed was a module on stockmanship skills during the movement of cattle from one destination to another.

“As we reviewed the epi curves on our health database, most of our health and injury risk was associated with change of address,” explains Noffsinger. “Cattle are pretty problem-free when they are grazing or growing out there with mothers, but moving them through the production cycles, they are more at risk for lameness, BRD, other injuries.”

Noffsinger says all animals placed in transition are a challenge, which requires caregivers to make sure their relationships to the animals are built on trust and positive prior experiences.

“Our goal is to quickly get these animals to rehydrate, build their nourishment and convince them they can rest and be confident in a new home and with new caregivers,” Noffsinger says.

Noffsinger also stipulates that there’s a difference between short-term stress and long-term stress for cattle. “Short bursts of stress are not negative. They’re almost healthy. But when stress is prolonged and goes on for minutes, hours or days, we see changes in the immune system. There are all kinds of chemicals secreted by the animal’s system that de-emphasizes the T lymphotocytes. They don’t protect antibodies, and it increases in disease susceptibility.”

Bacteria then take this as a signal of opportunity, he says. And rather than nutrients being used for maintenance or reproduction, they go back to muscle function to battle stress.

By encouraging voluntary movement, the cattle can gain confidence in the environment they’re led to, and they will refill water and feed willingly and frequently.

“It starts at arrival. We inspire caregivers to know that receiving cattle is part of a process; placing them in a new pen will prepare them for processing,” Noffsinger says. “We should work with an animal every day in the feeding and growing period, and be training them to volunteer to go on a truck.”

Loureiro has introduced the Creating Connections programs in Australia and Brazil on the cow-calf side. The training is critical in changing practices and even strengthening bonds between caregiver and cow-calf pairs.

Those trained in the Creating Connections modules enhance their ability to connect with protective cows. “When that mother and the baby trusts the caregiver, there’s a whole different level of animal-caregiver interaction,” says Loureiro. “Cow-calf stockmanship is a new thing. We hope people can be aware of how much impact they can have at birth.”

Jim Miles, senior marketing manager at Merck, says growth of the Creating Connections website shows the number of returning visitors has jumped since education modules were introduced. “People are understanding it’s a resource. They’re getting registered, viewing the training, and the teaser videos are getting people more interested.”

There is an online registration and login process on the Creating Connections website that allows free access to the educational modules.  end mark

PHOTO: Dr. Tom Noffsinger, right, works with a crew member at JBS Five Rivers Cattle Feeding LLC on a Creating Connections video module. Photo provided by Merck Animal Health.