First let's talk about an animal's flight zone. Most animals are likely to bolt if a person approaches them suddenly within an area closer than they're comfortable with. This circle is considered their flight zone. The more frightened or flighty an animal is, the larger its flight zone. So how to navigate around this difficult space and coax an animal to move in the proper direction? Livestock have what's known as a point of balance. The point of balance extends out from an animal's shoulder, so handlers need to approach and back away from that area at different angles depending on which way they want the animal to move. Generally, standing in front of the point of balance will cause an animal to back up, and standing behind will cause it to move forward. Understanding appropriate walking patterns will expedite loading and unloading.
Leveraging a herd's point of balance is a great way to get them going. If necessary, a tap here and there on the alley to the vehicle can also help move them along. Another easy strategy to enhance smooth loading and unloading is to start by leading in the tamest animals first, which are likely to serve as docile leaders to more stubborn animals. When especially stubborn animals still won't budge, never strike them with a stick and only prod them as a last resort. When an electric prodder is necessary, a battery-operated one is the preferred choice. It's best to try to find out what's causing the animal to balk and rectify the problem, or if that's not possible, use gentler tools like flat straps, plastic paddles or even rolled-up newspapers to coax hesitant livestock along.
Controlling the surrounding environment is another extremely important consideration because there are many visual and tactile distractions that can seem innocuous to us, but prove a real hindrance when it comes to keeping animals moving. For example, you should keep all extraneous noise to an absolute minimum. Turn off the engine and any lights -- especially any that flash or move.
Depending on the situation, it can be a good idea to carefully adjust the diet of livestock before transporting them. For example, they may need to be kept off green food and water before a trip and given only dry feed for varying periods of times beforehand. The specific timetables depend on factors such as the species and age of the animal, the weather conditions and the length of the journey, so it's essential to find out in advance what precautions are needed for any particular trip. Otherwise, livestock can quickly become weak and disoriented, and make a royal mess of the trailer, staining their coats and creating a dangerously slippery situation.
Watch for the potential symptoms of injury or pain. For example, an animal may seem disoriented with glazed eyes, exhibit reluctance to move or difficulty moving, or stand in a rigid position or be unable to stand at all. It might also shy away from herd mates; shiver, grunt or grind its teeth; make excessive noise; or even have an open bleeding wound. Whatever the situation, an experienced handler should be available to identify problems and assist wounded animals in a humane manner.
Once everybody's unloaded, assessed and given any care necessary, it's time to send the livestock to whatever fate awaits them. For more information on animal care and lots of types of agriculture that might not have hit your radar yet, visit the links on the next page.