It’s not uncommon for humans to lose weight when they are under a great deal of stress — and that same phenomenon extends to members of the animal world as well. Animals, especially cattle, that experience stress are generally thinner than and not as healthy as those who have a more tranquil existence.
Happy Cows, Healthy Cows
The mental state of cattle and the effect on meat quality and milk production has been a subject of great interest to researchers for decades. Several studies have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that those animals that are stressed tend to have lower body weights, lower-quality meat and other problems, including difficult temperaments.
For example, researchers at Colorado State University, led by Temple Grandin, discovered that cattle that were handled in the “traditional” ways — meaning they were placed in situations that caused agitation or excitement — did not produce meat that was as high quality as those animals that were managed via “gentle” handling methods. These findings were supported by additional work at Texas A&M, which reported that handling methods involving prods, hitting, shouting or other aggressive actions caused stress in animals, and as a result, lower weights.
Since the more an animal weighs, the more a rancher earns at market, it’s become increasingly important to handlers they use methods that keep the animals calm. In other words, the happier the cow, the healthier the cow, and the greater the potential to get a fair price at market.
A Weighty Issue
While researchers note keeping cattle stress-free is best, there are some situations in which agitation is unavoidable. One of those is weighing the cattle — you can’t exactly ask a 1,500-pound steer to simply step on the scale to be weighed.
The problem is compounded for those ranchers who have to bring their cattle to a scale to be weighed. For those in remote areas, weighing their stock often means driving the animals great distances, which can cause significant stress. The problem can be solved in some part by installing livestock weight scales at the ranch — most models are relatively affordable — but researchers are looking at new ways to use technology for weighing animals without causing any stress.
A former rancher who experienced the difficulty of transporting animals to be weighed is working with engineers to develop a portable, algorithm-based device to weigh cattle without ever leaving the field. The device uses small 3-D imaging cameras attached to the animal via neck strap, which take a series of images of the animal to create an accurate model. The animal’s weight is then calculated based on a series of algorithms. The researchers say these are nearly 100 percent accurate.
The image-based weighing device is still in the early stages of development, but it demonstrates the shift toward gentler and quieter means of managing cattle, which will help ranchers maximize their profits. In the meantime, ranchers looking to keep their animals happy and healthy can invest in on-site weighing systems to avoid having to transport their stock, and employ more humane practices, such as avoiding whips and prods.