ESCALON — Curt Pate does not stand behind a cow when he is trying to get her to move. Instead, he keeps to the animal's side so she can see him and know he's not a threat.
That was one of the tips that Pate, a Montana-based expert in livestock handling, offered to about 90 people in the beef and dairy industries Wednesday.
He said proper treatment will keep the animals from getting stressed and help these industries fend off abuse charges from critics.
"I think we're doing the right thing," Pate said. "It's just stupid mistakes that people make that cause the rest of us trouble."
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He spoke at the Escalon Livestock Market, which auctions cattle and other animals bound for slaughter or new homes. It was one of three such events put on in the Central Valley this week by the Livestock Marketing Association, based in Kansas City, Mo.
The meat and dairy industries have come under increasing scrutiny from animal rights activists. In perhaps the most vivid case, the Humane Society of the United States released a video showing sick and injured cattle being abused at a Chino slaughterhouse in 2008.
Pate, who works for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, said the industry has an economic stake
in treating livestock well, because abused animals are not good meat producers.
"I'm thinking about our customers, the people who eat beef," he said.
Livestock raisers can improve their image in simple ways, such as driving their cattle trailers carefully on public roads, he said.
Pate advised Robert Redford on equine behavior for "The Horse Whisperer," a 1998 movie. He said the quiet approach works as well with cattle.
"They don't understand English or Spanish, so you don't need to cuss," he said.
Quiet hands a quick tip
Pate, who also is a rancher, demonstrated his ideas with a couple of dairy cows brought to the market. At times, he hooked his thumbs in his belt, which he said keeps cattle calm because he is not moving his arms.
The audience included Mary McPhee-Miller, who has about 300 beef cattle near Lodi.
"I think people who have raised cattle for a while know most of this information — how you have to handle them quietly and let them see you," she said.
Market supervisor Bill Harvey said he tries to assure that livestock are handled properly as they are unloaded from trucks, placed in pens and led through the auction ring.
"I keep an eye on the people, and if I see them doing something a little rough, I say, 'Whoa, wait a minute,' " he said.
An electric prod is used only when other means of moving an animal do not work, Harvey said.
Market employee Michael Imbrogno said he often uses a paddle that is filled with BBs and shaken to get an animal's attention. He talked about it just after getting a pair of bulls into their stalls.
"This bull is a little calmer," he said. "This one is a little more stubborn. You have to use different techniques to get them where you want to go."
Humane Society spokesman Paul Shapiro said he was not familiar with Pate's program and could not comment in detail.
"I do think it's important that people who are involved in handling animals are well-trained in assuring the welfare of animals," he said.
Pate said part of the problem is that some livestock workers have a "calloused" attitude toward animals.
"It's OK to pet your horse," he said. "It's OK to really like those baby calves. If you don't like animals, I think you need to find another business."
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2385.