The Stockmanship Journal defines stockmanship as the knowledge and skillful handling of livestock in a safe, efficient, effective and low-stress manner.

Fears robert
Freelance Writer
Robert Fears is a freelance writer based in Georgetown, Texas.

A second definition, from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, is “Stockmanship is handling cattle with the intent of enhancing profitability through the following avenues:

  • Improve consumer confidence that cattlemen are good stewards of livestock.
  • By working with the natural instincts of cattle during handling, animal and handler safety can be improved.
  • Low-stress handling techniques enhance animal health and assure a higher response to medicines.”

Handling cattle improperly usually results in stressed animals. Beef cattle producers have learned that stressed animals consume less feed, produce poor weight gains, are more susceptible to diseases, provide smaller amounts of milk to their young, have a shorter life span, and their meat is less tender.

Because these effects result in reduced income, low-stress handling of cattle has become a standard operating procedure on the ranch, in the feedlot and at the packing plant.

Ron Gill handling cattle

Handling facilities at all three locations are designed for a smooth flow of livestock with the absence of objects that cause animals to sense danger or become suspicious of their surroundings.


Working on ranches taught me how to recognize stressed cattle. They are the ones that run to the other end of the pasture when you come through the gate, and the animals that try to jump over or go through corral fences when they are penned.

Stressed cattle are animals that cause you to wear out a good horse in moving them from a pasture to the corral.

Cattle that are not stressed readily come into the corral silently guided by one person in the proper positions in relation to the herd. After these cattle are in the corral, they are moved from pen to pen by the same low-stress handling techniques.

Glenn Rogers

Low-stress handling
“Low-stress handling combines effective stockmanship skills and a management approach that creates an environment where cattle become comfortable with human interaction,” states Dr. Ron Gill, livestock specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.

“When cattle become comfortable with human interaction, they actually look to the handlers for guidance and reassurance. Handlers create an environment where cattle can relax and not stress their systems. People need to be good stockmen before they can practice low-stress handling.”

“Low-stress livestock handling means the animal does not see the handler as a predator forcing them to move,” says Dr. Roger Ingram, cooperative extension farm adviser, University of California.

“This is replaced by using actions or pressure that allow cattle handlers to get a desired response without force.

Once handlers get that desired response, the coaxing action is stopped or released. When livestock see that human application of pressure is always accompanied by release of pressure when the animal responds, the cattle relax and comply with what handlers want.

“In order to implement low-stress livestock handling techniques, cattle producers must make two main changes in attitude,” relates Ingram.

“An old attitude is: ‘I’m going to make that animal do what I want.’ The new attitude should be: ‘I’m going to let that animal do what I want.’ A second old attitude is: ‘That miserable (ornery, wild, stupid …) cow (calf, bull …) broke back (went the wrong way, missed the gate, charged me, got sick …).’ The new attitude is: ‘What did I do to cause the animal to react that way?’”

Glenn Rogers“Personal attitude and disposition is a key factor in whether low-stress handling is successfully implemented or not,” says Glenn Rogers, DVM, owner and manager of Holt River Ranch near Graford, Texas.

“When you’re having a bad day, resulting in frustration and irritability, you had better not try to handle cattle until you can slow down and take a deep breath. They sense your mood and your high stress transfers to them. The cattle become more nervous, flighty and harder to handle. Personal stress transfers to cattle stress, so deal with your personal stress before handling cattle.”

“You have to be in a good mood to handle cattle in a low-stress environment,” says Rodney Schmidt of Schmidt Land and Cattle Company at La Grange, Texas.

“If you enter a pen while you are mad at somebody or something, you had better go back out and cool off. Cattle cannot be handled efficiently unless the handler calmly focuses all of his attention and thoughts on the task.”

“Slow is quicker when handling livestock. This is a statement that I have made many times and it needs some clarification,” says Gill.

“The slow part refers to the handler, not the cattle. Most people handling cattle make much quicker, bigger and more aggressive moves around and towards cattle than they realize. If handlers move in slow measured movements, they can get more predictable and desirable responses from cattle.”  end mark

Robert Fears is a freelance writer based in Texas.

PHOTO 1: Ron Gill slowly turns cattle in the direction he wants them to go.

PHOTO 2: Ron Gill quietly moves cattle out of a corner of the corral.

PHOTO 3: Glenn Rogers demonstrates that low-stress handling can be effective in the pasture as well as in the corral.

PHOTO 4: Glenn Rogers turns heifers toward the gate. Photos by Robert Fears.