Low-stress livestock handling clinic preps for grazing season

Low-stress livestock handling clinic preps for grazing season

Conservation Northwest / Jun 12, 2017 / Ranching, Range Riding, Wolves, Work Updates

Low-stress handling creates calmer and more efficient ranching processes and minimizes conflicts between wildlife and livestock

By Alaina Kowitz, Communications and Outreach Associate

At the end of May, I had the opportunity to drive across the state to attend a low-stress livestock handling clinic in Republic, Washington.

Whit Hibbard discusses LSLH techniques on horseback, especially important when monitoring cattle during the grazing season. Photo: Alaina Kowitz

Just a hop, skip and a jump away from where I grew up, it’s always refreshing to visit northeast Washington, especially when it’s dressed up in its spring green colors.

I headed to K Diamond K Ranch, ready to learn everything I could about livestock handling and the folks who would use this method of livestock management in the area.

The clinic was led by Whit Hibbard, a fourth generation Montana cattle rancher and former National Park mounted ranger, and Hilary Anderson, a former wildlife biologist-turned-livestock rancher in Montana just north of Yellowstone National Park.

Low-stress livestock handling (LSLH) is a livestock-centered, psychologically-oriented, ethical and humane method of working livestock and is based on mutual communication and understanding, not coercion. Elements of LSLH include providing frequent human presence during the grazing season, keeping cattle in a calm frame of mind, reinforcing natural herding tendencies and defense reactions, and intensive grazing rotations.

Both Hibbard and Anderson employ low-stress livestock handling methods for the benefit of the livestock they raise, the landscape they use, and the other animals they share space with (including wolves and grizzly bears).

Whit Hibbard demonstrates low-stress livestock handling on foot. Photo: Alaina Kowitz
While these techniques are primarily used by ranchers to create a calmer and more efficient ranching process for both humans and livestock, they’re also extremely effective at minimizing conflicts between wildlife and cattle as well as promoting sustainable range management. 

We provide funding that allows ranchers to hire range riders, who ride with livestock from spring turnout through fall roundup; this provides an all-important human presence throughout the grazing season and allows riders to quickly identify and diffuse potential conflicts between wildlife and livestock.

Range riders are able to rapidly find compromised or injured livestock, remove carcasses in a timely manner from the area (known as sanitization), haze threatening wildlife, and provide up-to-date information to the producer about the state of the herd.

A clinic attendee works on LSLH techniques to calmly move cattle. Photo: Alaina Kowitz
Range riders are also able to keep cattle from scattering across a landscape, which increases vulnerability to wildlife attacks. Keeping livestock in a herd-like state also helps cattle feel safe enough to confront threatening wildlife rather than simply flee from it.

Because of these wildlife and rangeland benefits, Conservation Northwest is invested in promoting these methods in Washington with our ranching partners in order to create more resilient landscapes and peaceful coexistence between livestock animals and native wildlife.

I came away from the clinic with a better grasp on how LSLH works and how it all begins with understanding how livestock think. It also taught me that small, thoughtful changes to thought processes – for example, shifting from human-focused to animal- and landscape-focused behaviors – can yield measurable and positive results for people, livestock, wildlife and the land.