Meet Your Rancher: Dave Schafer

This week’s feature is Dave Schafer, Resident Director at the University of Arizona’s V Bar V Ranch located in Rimrock, Arizona. Learn how Dave got into the ranching business, low-stress cattle handling and why it is important for a productive ranch.

Resized DaveArizona Beef: How did you get involved with beef cattle? The University of Arizona ranch, the V Bar V?

Dave Schafer: I grew up on a farm in NW Missouri and we raised cattle but it was not until I entered college that I found I really liked working with beef cattle and wanted to make a career of it.  I obtained a B.S. Degree from Northwest Missouri State University then went on to Colorado State University (CSU) to obtain a M.S. and PhD degrees in Animal Breeding/Genetics with emphasis in beef cattle.  When I finished my M.S. degree, I was hired by CSU to manage the cattle records and activities for the CSU-Beef Improvement Center, the San Juan Basin Research Center and Four Corners Bull Test.  Upon finishing my PhD, I accepted a two-year postdoctoral position at the San Juan Basin Research Center and then assumed management of that facility at the end of my post-doc.

Dr. Roy Ax approached me in 1999 about the possibility of coming to Arizona to run the V Bar V Ranch.  I saw many possibilities and a great opportunity so I applied and was fortunate to get the job as Resident Director.

flight zone
An example of flight zone. Cattle create a similar pattern.*

Arizona Beef: What is low-stress cattle handling?

Dave Schafer:  Low-stress cattle handling is basically a form of communication between the animal and handler.  Animals are usually willing to do the activities we want them to but there is an obvious communication barrier.  Therefore, it is the responsibility of the handler to make the animal understand what you want it to do by utilizing the animal’s flight zone and point of balance** to move the animal.  Using these techniques, you build trust with your animals and they move more easily and are less frightened.

Diagram of flight zone and point of balance.**

Arizona Beef: Why is low-stress cattle handling important to you and your ranch?

Dave Schafer:Stressed animals are more susceptible to sickness and their weight gains are affected.  As a producer, we want the animals to be healthy not only for the sake of animal but also the economics.  Stressed animals cost producers money.

Arizona Beef: How do you ensure low-stress cattle handling happens on your ranch?
Dave Schafer: We use the animal’s flight zone* and point of balance** to move them and do it in a quiet non-threatening way.  Another part of low-stress handling is having good facilities.  Good facilities ensure not only your workers’ safety but also the safety of the animals.  Designing facilities to work with the natural movement of livestock and understanding potential distractions around your facilities can help you move the animals quietly and efficiently.  We have tried to design our facilities to be as efficient as possible.

understanding cattle 2
A diagram of point of balance.***

Arizona Beef: How do genetics play into this?

Dave Schafer: There is a genetic component to docility in animals.  Therefore, we can collect a chute score on an animal to assess their response to handling.  Some animals are naturally more nervous than others despite being treated the same.  We can make selection decisions using these scores to select the tamer animals and thereby reduce stress levels within the herd.

*This photo “illustrates the flight zone of a large flock of sheep, herds of cattle behave much the same way. Notice that the sheep are circling around the handlers while maintaining a safe distance and keeping the people in sight. Note that the sheep tend to move in the opposite direction of handler movement.” (Source)

** The point of balance is usually at the animal’s shoulder and it is determined by the animal’s wide angle vision. All species of livestock will move forward if the handler stands behind the point of balance. They will back up if the handler stands in front of the point of balance.

***This photo provides a bird’s eye view and allows one to see the point of balance. Where the handler is currently standing is called the point of balance because the animal will not move (if out of the flight zone). If the handler moves towards the back of the animal, behind the point of balance, the animal will move forward. If the handler moves towards the head of the animal, it will move backward.

For more information on the V Bar V Ranch visit their website here. To learn more about low-stress cattle handling visit Dr. Temple Grandin’s website.

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