Weaner Management DVD

Trudi Oxley, Extension Officer, Katherine

As with people, the younger cattle are the easier it is to educate them about good and bad behaviour. Weaning is an ideal time to consolidate the education process by exposing cattle to the stresses they will need to handle later in life.

Research conducted by the Beef Co-operative Research Centre into the effects of yard weaning and feeding on subsequent feedlot performance, found that after 90 days on feed the estimated added value of yard weaning was $25/head (after costs) over cattle weaned into the paddock with no handling. The improved growth rates came about because the animals were preconditioned to handling and less stressed as they moved through the supply chain.

In view of the importance of weaner management and education to beef producers, the Department and Primary Industries and Fisheries has developed the Weaner Management DVD, a series of training videos aimed at improving lifetime productivity, animal welfare and staff safety.

The DVD covers three key areas:

  1. Overview of weaning and weaner managementThis provides the background to the importance of weaning as a herd management tool, as well as the basics of weaner management in the areas of health and nutrition, and considerations for station staff involved in weaner feeding and care.
  2. Stockhandling 
    This section covers the basic principles and terminology of stockhandling such as flight zones, pressure and release, positioning and demeanour, and intent. It highlights the importance of good stockhandling to ensure animal welfare, production outcomes and staff safety.
  3. Weaner education program
    This section provides an overview of a weaner education program. It demonstrates practical exercises for stockpeople responsible for training weaners.

Case Study: John and Helen Armstrong, Gilnockie Station, Katherine, NT

In the following case study, John and Helen Armstrong of Gilnockie Station outline how they have used the Weaner Management DVD in their staff training program. We encourage producers to have a look at the video to see how they could use it, either on property or as a follow up to formal livestock handling training courses. In the next edition of the KRR we will hear from Gilnockie Station staff about how they benefited from the weaner training video.

John and Helen Armstrong run Gilnockie Station south of Katherine. This year they put 8,800 head through the yards. They’re confident that their Brahman Droughtmaster-cross animals will enter the supply chain in a calm and collected manner, and to their credit, in the best condition possible for the export market. 

As far as the Armstrongs are concerned, it all starts with understanding and educating livestock.

“Spend the time to educate your livestock and learn how to handle them calmly and confidently. The results for us have been improved health and safety outcomes for both staff and animal, machinery and labour savings and less shrink in the handling phase across the herd,” John said.

The Armstrongs bring on new workers for about six months of every year. Most are “green and keen”. This season, John and Helen used the Weaner Management DVD to introduce workers to the weaning process and effective cattle handling techniques.

“John used to spend hours training staff on the ground in animal handling, this season he had them watch the weaner management DVD,” said Helen.

“After 30 minutes staff understood the basic principles of cattle behaviour and stockmanship. They were ready to trial what they’d learnt on the ground with our support.”

On the third day of educating 500 weaners in the yard, staff walked the cattle out to an open paddock in a calm and collected manner. No rushing, no hustling, no “yee haaa-ing”.

The DVD has also assisted John and Helen to equip workers with the skills to load cattle with minimum stress to the animals. Helen says this is one of the hardest tasks to teach new workers.

“The DVD teaches workers to read the animals and apply the right amount of pressure at the right spot at the right time. Workers are quickly able to recognise the animals reactions and understand why they are reacting the way they are,” Helen said.

The DVD follows the same principles that John and Helen have been advocating and putting into practice for most of their career in the pastoral industry.

John said, “When I muster with a helicopter, I allow cows to gain confidence and trust in me, and they gather up and wander off in the general direction of the yard. It’s not a matter of floating them or bombing them off water. In fact you take the opposite approach. Slowly apply pressure on-pressure off and in their own time the cows will gain confidence, gather themselves, their calves and away they’ll walk. It takes time and patience but the returns are worth it.”

According to John, the key benefits of  ‘low stress stock handling’ are lower OH&S incidents, less wear and tear on machinery, reduced labour costs, and calm and tractable animals who handle pressure better and thus lose less weight. It’s not uncommon after a muster to see the lead of Armstrong cattle standing at the gate, chewing cud while the tail walks past and yards up.

“Long gone are the days of cattle busting through yards,” John reflected. “If you’re doing it right, there’s no reason you shouldn’t get this result every time.”

John’s final advice is to “get the animals’ attention, then their confidence. Only then are cattle ready and happy to comply with pressure.”

The DVD is just one tool in a pastoral manager’s weaner training program aimed at increasing overall enterprise and industry productivity and profitability.

Helen would like to see more training delivered in simple formats. “No one these days has the time to sit down and watch Bud Williams for a day. This DVD is simple, short and can be applied by staff immediately. I think there should be more industry initiatives like it.”

You can find the training video’s on the Department’s YouTube Channel.  If you have trouble viewing the videos we can send you a USB copy, please contact trudi.oxley@nt.gov.au

Last updated: 21 April 2016