Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
Fact Sheet written by: C. Richardson and N. Noecker
Electric prods are commonly used to move cattle into and through handling facilities and onto trucks. The prod is a tool designed to assist the handler to start the cattle moving in the required direction. The following information is provided as a guide for the appropriate use of this tool.
How to Use a Prod
Manufacturers have made prods with high/low selector switches. Use the low charge setting on smaller animals.
Place the contact points of the prod on the rear flank or upper rear leg of the animal. To avoid over-shocking, press the power button, then release it.
Do not shock wet animals, as there is the potential to increase the shock intensity when cattle are wet. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the National Farm Animal Care Council’s (2013) Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle requires that “cattle handlers must be familiar with cattle behaviour and use quiet handling techniques.”
The 2013 Code also requires:
- “Electric prods must only be used to assist movement of cattle when animal or human safety is at risk or as a last resort when all other humane alternatives have failed and only when cattle have a clear path to move.
- Do not use electric prods repeatedly on the same animal.
- Do not use electric prods on the genitals, face, udder or anal areas.
- Do not use electric prods on calves less than 3 months of age that can be moved manually.”
Do not prod an animal that is either already moving or cannot see a place to move to. Continuous prodding of an animal causes unnecessary stress and pain to the animal. Prodding cattle at the back of a group will not make the cattle at the front move forward. It can lead to cattle riding up onto the backs of the ones in front of them, causing bruising. Prodded, excited cattle that cannot see an escape route may turn back on the handler.
Use prods sparingly. If you and the animal are becoming agitated, it is better to back away and allow time to calm down. It takes 20-30 minutes for an animal to relax after becoming excited. Consider spending this time discovering why the animal balked before attempting once more to move the animal through the handling facilities.
Why Not to Use a Prod
The Code of Practice discourages the use of electric prods. Dr. Temple Grandin, animal behaviourist, has studied animal movement and designed handling facilities for ranchers and packers. She recommends that prods not be used on farms that raise breeding stock. The stress created by the use of a prod may impair the animals’ immune system, reduce weight gain, damage rumen function and reduce reproductive ability. Animals that are handled roughly and become excited or frightened will remember their experience and be much harder to handle the next time. Their level of anxiety or stress when entering the handling facility will be higher due to their memory of previous experiences.
Dr. Grandin has also studied cattle vocalizations as a measure of stress in crowd pens, single file chutes and stunning chute areas at packing plants. Electric prodding was found to cause more than 50% of the vocalizations. She states that in plants with “excessive prodding, vocalizations significantly declined after the employees were instructed to tap the animals on the rear before resorting to an electric prod.”
Dr. Grandin also found that rushing livestock during unloading after transport is a major cause of bruising. Loin bruises are often caused by two cattle becoming wedged in a truck door while running to get out of the truck. To avoid these unnecessary injuries, keep electric prod use and yelling to a minimum during unloading. A 1994 Purdue University study found that cows reacted equally poorly to either shouting or shocking.
Alternatives to Electric Prods
During a 1998 study at several large slaughter plants, Dr. Grandin was able to reduce the use of electric prodding of beef cattle to 17% from 83%. This was accomplished by taking advantage of cattle’s flight zone and natural movement patterns. The most common error people make when moving cattle is attempting to put too many animals into the crowd pen. It is preferable to fill the crowd pen only half full and avoid pushing the crowd gate tightly against the cattle. If animals do not move readily into a single file chute from a crowd pen, discover why before applying the prod.
Many studies have been conducted on the use of cattle’s natural movement patterns when moving and loading cattle. Visit the Ministry website for articles that identify ways to make handling cattle easier on the handler and the cattle.
Bud Williams’s stockmanship school stressed the need to change our basic attitude toward livestock. He believed that, by trying to control animals in “the old way,” we give up our chance to achieve the control we desire. He advocated the proper positioning of the stockman to apply enough pressure on the animals to move them any direction they are physically able to go. Using fear and force to move cattle is very stressful for them. His course took the animal’s natural behaviour into consideration and asked his students to change their behaviour instead.
Animals in a “normal mental state” want to do certain things:
- move in the direction they are headed
- follow other animals
- see what is pressuring them to move
Review your handling facilities and methods of moving cattle. This may save time and reduce the stress for both the handler and the cattle, and reduce the need for prods.
This Factsheet was written by Nancy Noecker, Beef Cow-Calf Specialist, and Craig Richardson, Animal Care Specialist, Kemptville, OMAFRA.