Feedlot Safety: Low Stress Cattle Handling

Stressed cattle can easily injure or kill a worker. According to the Kansas Livestock Association’s Work Comp Program, 45% of feedlot injuries involve working with cattle. Understanding cattle behavior and implementing low stress cattle handling practices can prevent serious injuries and fatalities. Low-stress cattle handling incorporates the understanding of cattle’s natural behaviors. Using this knowledge, cattle handlers can positively affect cattle movement.

Cattle Behavior

livestock - cowContrary to widely held belief, cattle behavior is often predictable. Most handler related incidents occur when cattle are stressed. Understanding cattle stressors can reduce the potential for serious injuries and fatalities. Cattle are animals of prey and often defenseless. They need to trust their handlers. The trust established between handlers and animals reduces stress. Gaining trust requires cattle handlers to move in a predictable manner so that cattle feel safe.

The Flight Zone

Cattle handlers must understand and manage the flight zone. This is a significant and common cattle stressor. An animal’s flight zone is similar to your personal space. It is the distance from an animal that a handler must maintain for the animal to feel comfortable. When a person enters the flight zone, the animal will move. The flight zone radius can range from five to over 25 feet for feedlot cattle and as far as 300 feet for range cattle.

Low Stress Cattle Handling

Using consistent and predictable movements can significantly reduce flight zone distance and minimize animal stress. The objective of a cattle handler is to train the animals to move in a predictable manner. Approaching animals quickly or in an unusual or unpredictable manner can cause stress. Animals can also become stressed by unusual noises, mobile equipment movement,   and in new or unfamiliar environments.

Low stress cattle handling in feedlots requires predictable movements. Handlers must understand the unique flight zone for each a group of cattle. It takes time and patience to gain an animal’s trust. Earning their trust must begin as soon as they enter the feedlot. Trust is quickly lost whenever an animal feels threatened.


Implementing low stress cattle handling practices is the key to preventing serious injuries and fatalities in cattle feedlots. Safety doesn’t have to be difficult, simple steps, such as implementing low stress cattle handling practices, can prevent injuries and save lives.

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Chuck Pirie is the founder of Safety Made Simple, LLC and a livestock subject matter expert. He has over 30 years of experience in safety and as a consultant. Chuck can be reached at chuck.pirie@safetymadesimple.com