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Most cattle herds are gathered and worked for branding, vaccinating, pregnancy testing, weaning and other necessary management tasks. Many cowherds are put through the chute twice or more annually. It is important to make sure these cattle-working tasks are accomplished smoothly and safely, for health of the cattle and safety of the crew doing the job.

Nora Schrag, DVM at Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine, says the place to start is to walk through the facilities that will be used to hold, sort and restrain the cattle.

Pen systems

“Walk through them with two things in mind. Be thinking in terms of the people working around this facility, and take note of anything that might be dangerous to them. Many set-ups use pipes behind animals in the chute alleyway to keep them from backing up. Notice the way gates swings and the directions the levers go,” Schrag says.

“It depends on what kind of squeeze chute the rancher has. If they are standing in the wrong spot when an animal is released or their head is in the wrong place, the producer may get hurt. Ranchers need to make sure that they and their crew – whoever will be working there, especially if some are people who aren’t used to working around cattle or are new to the particular facility – know about the danger areas,” she adds.

Schrag encourages ranchers to point out places that crew members need to be aware of, such as levers that might get in the way or areas they can get into trouble.

  “Walking through the facility with these things in mind is very important,” she explains.

Animal’s perspective

“Also look at it from the point of view of the animal,” Schrag continues. “I always walk into the tub or down the chute alleyway looking for any nails that might be sticking out, bolts, flaps of tin hanging out that an animal could get caught on or anything they could put their foot through.”

“There might be something that was perfectly fine the last time we worked cattle but may not hold for today,” she says.

“Things change. These facilities are out in the weather, we use them, cattle bounce against things and sometimes it’s not very obvious where it broke the last time. Then an animal hits it again, and it’s very obvious,” Schrag says. “Pay attention to these things at the start, and the whole time we are working cattle. Keep facility functionality in mind.”

Handling for flow

It also pays to try to handle the cattle in the best possible way as they flow through the process.

“We might point out to the crew that a certain corner is a bit tight and they need to be careful as they go around it or not put too many through a certain gate at once. These things make a big difference. It’s a lot easier to prevent injuries than to fix them later,” Schrag says.

Keep human safety in mind when working cattle.

“If there’s just one person pushing cattle up and one person working at the chute, it’s not very complicated. But sometimes there might be several people doing things to make it go faster, and there are things that can make a difference in how likely we are to get poked with a needle or have some other kind of accident,” says Schrag.

“We need to be aware of every person and every animal around us. When we are refilling or holding a syringe, we should keep our elbows down at our sides. Then if someone walks past us, they’re not as likely to bump our elbows and move our hands,” she explains.

Handling and refilling syringes can lead to accidental needle pokes, and while most cattle vaccines aren’t dangerous to humans, some like blackleg can cause serious inflammatory reactions.

“Avoiding accidental needle pokes should be high priority. We need to keep our elbows at our sides,” she says.

Schrag also adds, “If someone is holding a bottle to refill the syringe, they should stick out one finger and touch their other arm for stability and steadiness. Then if someone bumps them, there’s no way the needle will jump into their hand. They should already have their hands locked together and braced.”

While working cattle

When working cattle, people are reaching through bars to vaccinate or apply medication. Depending on the facility, this may be easy and safe or it may be risky. The rancher and crew have to pay attention to what they are doing.

“Some general rules can keep us from getting hurt. Always reach over rather than through, when possible. If we are reaching through, be aware of what the animal is doing and be ready to pull back if the animal moves. Any time we can open a bar instead of reaching through it is preferable,” Schrag emphasizes

The animal may lunge or jump and catch a hand, wrist or arm between it and the bar.

“Even people who have been working around chutes for a long time sometimes get hurt. Anything we can do to minimize situations where our arms could get pinched will help,” she says.

Schrag encourages producers to think ahead to what might possibly happen, noting that it’s all about trying to predict those problems rather than helplessly watching them happen.

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Many farms, ranches and ag businesses across Wyoming are family owned and operated, but University of Wyoming Extension Educator John Hewlett comments managing employees can be key in operations. 

“Within the business of agriculture, it makes things easier for managers if employees better understand where they fit,” Hewlett says. “We should develop a system for evaluating employee responsibilities in addition to the work capacity for some employees.”

Employees should understand what they are responsible for and how to do their jobs, which means that employers must take an active role in managing employees.

Communicating

Hewlett notes that one of the most important aspects of evaluating performance is setting up a communication structure with employees.

“This implies that we should have conversations so employees understand what is expected,” he says. “If there are questions, we can interact to clarify.”

Open lines of communication help employers to avoid wrecks in the operation where employees thought they had authority to act and didn’t or did not understand their role.

“The idea is to avoid a wreck down the road,” Hewlett says. “We want to enhance employee ability, which also includes direct training.”

Training

To enhance employee abilities, Hewlett notes that it is important to discover what motivates them.

“A lot of people think motivation is all about pay, but those of us in agriculture are probably not involved in what we are doing because of the pay,” he says. “Employees don’t enter jobs necessarily for the pay.”

Employees are also motivated by the possibility for experience, the location of the career, the responsibility or the challenges involved.

“We have to take these things into account,” Hewlett says. “Pay and performance are the biggest things we have control over. But are there possibilities for indirect compensation? Is that clear to the employee? There might be a need for communication so that everyone is clear on compensation.”

The chance for advancement may be another motivating factor.

Supervisors

Those employees who also supervise others are particularly important on ag operations, and Hewlett notes that they are the linchpins of the operation.

“They are caught in the middle,” he says. “Sometimes they are part of the crew and accomplishing the day-to-day work, but other times they are the point at which business turns.”

“They are key to making sure the business operates the way we have in mind,” Hewlett comments.

Since those employees are supervising the work of others, determining how much responsibility they have and how it is delegated is important, he continued.

“There are some discussions that should be had to help us decide what kinds of things are worth delegating and which may be easier to take care of as the ranch owner,” Hewlett explains.

It is also important to consider, after work is delegated, how to communicate what work should be done.

Supervisory styles

“How that delegation is carried out in terms of supervisor instructions is also important,” Hewlett continues. “There are lots of styles of instruction.”

For example, he explains that authoritarian supervisors operate under a system where workers are told what to do and then receive criticism if the work isn’t carried out as expected by the supervisor.

“The other levels involve more thinking from the workers about how we are going to carry out work as opposed to management describing how they want it to happen,” he says, noting that other styles of management involve employees more directly in making decisions. “We can also give employees ideas about the direction we want to go and the boundaries.”

“One way is not right or wrong,” Hewlett says. “In different circumstances, on different operations, there are some situations that lead to one approach over the other.”

Leadership

At the same time, Hewlett mentions that leadership styles can also facilitate employee growth and may help reward employees for their success.

“How can we use leadership to bring out the skills of our employees so they can become more autonomous and take over some responsibility from management?” he asked. “Starting off with an authoritative approach and working to more of a coaching situation can help people move forward and build responsibility within the organization.”

Employee evaluation

Evaluating employees based on their supervisory performance, Hewlett continues, is also an important part of management.

“Hiring someone with experience helps with supervisory performance, but that doesn’t mean we can’t mentor people into those roles,” he says. “There are things we can do to coach them into being more effective in team situations.”

Hewlett notes that there are various stages of team performance and formation that can help employees to be effective and efficient.

“We have to have a formalized process for managing and evaluating employees,” Hewlett says. “This is critical to getting our job done. Most ag operators have a sketchy system in place, but there are ways to make it better.”

Hewlett spoke during the 2015 Progressive Rancher Forum, held on Nov. 30 in Casper.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Intended to reduce the risk of pesticide poisoning and injury among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the Worker Protection Standard (WPS) in 1992. WPS applies to anyone who applies pesticides on farms, in greenhouses or nurseries or in a forest setting.

EPA’s Region 8 Headquarters office enforces policy compliance in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, and routine WPS inspections can be expected at any time.

“EPA does routinely visit this state, and they maintain a presence in Wyoming,” comments Wyoming Department of Agriculture Technical Services Manager Hank Uhden, adding that recent indicators strongly indicate that the state may be due for WPS inspections this year.

EPA inspections examine the practices of agricultural, handler and farm labor contractor employers and their employees to ensure they are in compliance with product-specific WPS requirements, as well as generic WPS requirements, such as safety information and training, decontamination and worker notification procedures.

Worker safety

According to WPS Agricultural Inspection Guidance, “The goals in conducting WPS agricultural inspections include monitoring employer compliance, documenting violations, addressing noncompliance and increasing handler and worker safety.”

“Producers need to make sure they really follow label instructions,” notes Uhden.

Wearing the proper personal protection equipment, informing employees about application and communicating with contract applicators can help ensure safe and correct measures in compliance with WPS.

“If a farmer hires a commercial applicator to go out and do the pesticide application, that farmer still needs to comply with WPS. They need to have the label, the product information, the material safety data sheet or safety data sheet and informed employees,” he says.

Staying current

As an example to remind producers about WPS compliance, Uhden shares a story about a producer who was given a hefty fine of nearly $250,000 for missing safety information.

“The guy removed a piece of paper from the manual that was kept at a central location in the office, which kept it in compliance. He took it to train employees, and it never got returned back to the book,” he explains.

Uhden encourages producers to make sure proper signage is posted and that all employees follow instructions, such as staying out of fields when label directions indicate that people should avoid the area for a given period of time after application.

Regulation changes

Uhden also emphasizes recent WPS changes, reminding producers that Jan. 1, 2017 marks the date all new standards will go into effect, and farmers need to be in compliance.

“WPS just went through a federal rewrite of the regulations. We are under some changes now, and next year the people under the worker standards will have to be in compliance,” he states.

In April of this year, Wyoming Department of Agriculture employees will receive customized training from the EPA Region 8 office to learn about how changes will affect Wyoming producers and how extensive training will need to be to ensure all producers are in compliance with new regulations.

“We are going to do a top-lead train-down to the applicator level, working with our county Extension through the University of Wyoming (UW) to cover the necessary material for applicator trainings,” he adds.

Upcoming training

The Wyoming Department of Agriculture and UW will team up to provide regional training sessions throughout the state, with opportunities for private and commercial applicators to learn more about program changes.

“Times and dates for those events will be announced later. We are still in the infancy of trying to get that going,” he mentions.

Changes to WPS regulations will include expanded training requirements, new buffer zone descriptions, record-keeping mandates, changes to safety regulations and more.

“If anyone has any questions, they can call us. We will be more than happy to visit with them and make sure they are doing what they need to do to be in compliance, based on their operation and what they do,” states Uhden.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“Farming and ranching is one of the top 12 high-stress careers,” says Lyndy Phillips, a comedian and motivational speaker. “Farm and ranch owners are only second from others for stress-related diseases.”

Many things cause stress, but Phillips notes that the number one cause of stress for Americans is their career. In agriculture, the next two leading causes of stress are an integral part of the day-to-day job.

“The second cause of stress is family,” he continues, noting that families, and especially children, are very stressful. “The third thing is money. It doesn’t matter how little or how much we have, money is a stressful part of life.”

Other things that cause stress are the weather and unexpected events that happen.

While some stress is important for sustaining life, Phillips comments that regulating and maintaining stress levels is also important to sustaining a high-quality life.

Negative impacts of stress

It is important to reduce stress levels for several reasons, according to Philips, who notes, “Stress makes us unhealthy.”

The psychological symptoms of stress influence a state of mind referred to as downshifting.

“We all know what downshifting is when we think about tractors,” Phillips says, citing work by Leslie Art, a renowned physician. “In a downshifted state, when we feel nervous, angry, depressed or stressed, our brains work less effectively. We aren’t thinking correctly, and we make a lot of mistakes.”

When thinking is inhibited, he notes that accidents happen more frequently, which can be severely detrimental to health.

“The fourth reason to reduce stress is because 33 percent of us feel like we are drowning in it. If we experience high levels of stress for long periods of time, that is extreme stress, and it can do a lot of damage,” he says.

Extreme stress levels result in the six leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, lung ailments and others.

Results of stress

When stress becomes a prevalent part of producers’ lives, Phillips noted that a number of things happen.

“When we are stressed, our hobbies and the things we enjoy go away. We just don’t care about them any more,” he says. “Farmers just tend to let things go when they get stressed.”

Next, stress induces anger, particularly over incidents that are minor or that wouldn’t normally trigger anger.

“If we find ourselves getting angry over things that shouldn’t make us angry, we might have a high level of stress,” Phillips comments.

“Third is fatigue,” he continues. “Stress makes us tired all the time, everywhere.”

“If we have these symptoms, we need to reduce our stress,” Phillips says.

Reducing stress

To reduce stress levels, Phillips notes that there are six different strategies farmers and ranchers can utilize.

“One way to reduce stress is listening to music,” he says. “Music is medically proven to reduce stress. It relaxes the mind.”

Exercise and walking can also reduce stress, but Phillips notes that walking on-the-job isn’t the same as taking a relaxing stroll.

“We need to take time to take a walk leisurely that isn’t part of the job,” he explains. “When we enjoy walking, it is healthy.”

Reading and educating oneself is also a healthy way to reduce stress.

“When we get more educated and learn to do things better and more efficiently, it can also brings stress down,” Phillips says.

He continues, “If we are really stressed, prayer and meditation can also really bring stress down.”

Phillips also highlighted vacation as an option to effectively reduce stress, and while ag producers often don’t have time to take a lot of vacation, it can be important to find or make the time for a break. 

Laughter

“The last thing that helps to reduce stress is laughter,” Phillips says. “Medicine has proven that when we laugh, we reduce stress, and we can also heal our body.”

Laughter triggers the release of endorphins in the body and induces increased production of gamma-interferon, T-cells and B-cells, all of which are important immune cells in the human body.

“Heart attack survivors experiencing 30 minutes of laughter a day were less likely to have another heart attack,” he says. “There are mental and social benefits to laughter.”

“Just living life can be stressful, and being on the farm can be stressful,” Phillips emphasizes, “but we need to find ways to reduce our stress. Don’t cut life short because of stress.”

Phillips presented “Laugh More, Stress Less” at the 22nd Annual Wyoming Women’s Ag Symposium, held in Casper in mid-November.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Wheatland — For longer than he could remember, Joe made several trips from the grain bin to the barn carrying heavy feed buckets in each hand. Although Joe was a strong rancher, years of carrying those heavy buckets eventually took its toll on his body. The back pain became so severe that Joe could no longer carry the buckets.
    Bill spent years farming land that had been handed down through his family for generations. However, years of back breaking physical labor, pinched fingers, sprained wrists and other injuries caught up with the farmer. The day finally came when the task of simply grasping a pencil was too hard for Bill.
    Joe and Bill are just two of 46 million Americans who suffer from some form of arthritis. It is a common ailment that affects one in five people, according to the Arthritis Foundation. The ailment doesn’t affect any particular age since over 300,000 children suffer from it. In fact, two-thirds of all people afflicted with arthritis are under 65-years of age.
    Farmers and ranchers are at an increased risk for arthritis because of the profession they chose. To teach them about arthritis and how to manage their pain, the Wyoming AgrAbility program recently sponsored workshops across Wyoming. These workshops were designed to teach farmers and ranchers the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of arthritis, as well as ways to manage the pain while continuing their farming and ranching tasks.
    According to Randy Weigel, human development specialist with the University of Wyoming and the project director for Wyoming AgriAbility, “More than 80 percent of ranchers and farmers experience some form of arthritis. Ranchers and farmers are heavily affected by this condition, which can reduce their ability to perform work tasks efficiently.”
    Farmers and ranchers are more susceptible to developing arthritis because of the way they do their work. “Most ranches in Wyoming are owner-operator,” said Mary Fick Monteith with the Wyoming Institute for Disabilities (WIND). “If you aren’t there to do the work, the work isn’t going to get done.”
    Arthritis means inflammation of a joint, said Sarah Perry, occupational therapist for the Gottsche Rehabilitation Center. “The term describes more than 100 different conditions that affect the joints, muscles and tendons, and sometimes even the skin, internal organs and other parts of the body,” she added.
    Individuals with pain, stiffness, occasional swelling or tenderness, difficulty moving a joint or redness of a joint or near one could be experiencing arthritis symptoms. Joints can also feel stiff or be hard to move, she added. Perry encouraged those suffering from arthritis not to give up, as treatments are available that can reduce or alleviate symptoms.
    Perry encouraged people who think they may be suffering from arthritis to see a rheumatologist (a doctor who specializes in arthritis) or a doctor who has training with treatment of the condition. “A doctor can recommend a treatment program to help with arthritis,” she explained. Perry also recommended seeking out the Arthritis Foundation, which has additional resources.
    Perry said it is also important for farmers and ranchers to learn how to do their work without adding physical stress that could make arthritis worse. In the example of Joe hauling grain buckets from the grain bin to the barn, an individual could make or purchase a trailer to hook on the back of a 4-wheeler to haul the buckets.
    “The key is to look at the task and see if it could be done differently by using a different tool or piece of equipment to make the task easier on the joints,” Perry said. Farmers and ranchers also need to be more willing to ask for help when they need to. “Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a smart way to do business and will help protect your joints,” she explained.
    Weigel said through the AgriAbility program, professionals are available who can come to a farm or ranch homestead to talk about what modifications could be made to equipment and ways everyday tasks could be done differently. “They can even call us for ideas on retrofitting equipment to make things easier for them,” Weigel said.
    Monteith said many of the services offered by her organization are available to farmers and ranchers regardless of age, disability or income. “Our goal is to provide the means to help individuals accomplish their daily tasks,” she explained. “We have a loan program where someone can come in and try out the device before they decide to make it in the shop or buy it. Some devices can be very expensive.”
    Monteith said her organization does not sell devices, but she can help farmers and ranchers find what they need. She also handles a reutilization program, where she finds new homes for devices that are no longer used by an individual.
    Weigel said the Wyoming AgrAbility program cannot provide money, loans or direct funds to purchase assistive technology devices. However, Weigel said they do work with the Wyoming Technology Access Program (WYTAP) which offers loans at low or no-interest rates to individuals who need to purchase assistive technology devices. If an individual qualifies for the program, they can borrow from $500 to $25,000 with extended payback periods of up to 70 months. In order to be eligible for this program, an individual must be a Wyoming resident with a disability or the legal guardian or family member of an individual with a disability. The individual must show that the loan will be used to purchase an assistive technology device or service. There are no income eligibility restrictions, but applicants must demonstrate sufficient credit worthiness.
    For more information on these programs, contact: Wyoming AgrAbility at 307-766-3052 or find them online at www.uwyo.edu/agrability. WILR can be reached at 307-266-6956. WATR can be reached at 307-766-2085 or online at www.wind.uwyo.edu/watr. Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup.