Use Of Electric Prods On Cattle

Factsheet - ISSN 1198-712X   -   Copyright Queen's Printer for Ontario
Agdex#: 400/20
Publication Date: 08/01
Order#: 01-049
Last Reviewed: 01/12
History: New
Written by: Craig Richardson - Animal Care Specialist/OMAFRA

Table of Contents

  1. How to Use a Prod
  2. Over-Prodding
  3. When Not To Use A Prod
  4. Alternatives To Electric Prods
  5. Conclusion

Electric prods are commonly used to move cattle into and through handling facilities and onto trucks. The prod is a tool designed to assist the handler to start the cattle moving in the required direction. The following information is provided as a guide for the appropriate use of this tool.

How to Use a Prod

Manufacturers have made prods with high/low selector switches. Use the low charge setting on smaller animals.

Place the contact points of the prod on the rear flank or upper rear leg of the animal. To avoid over-shocking, press the power button and then release it.

Do not shock wet animals, as there is the potential to increase the shock intensity when cattle are wet. The Recommended Code of Practice for Beef Cattle, published by the Canadian Agri-Food Research Council, warns, "Care must be taken not to use prods on the genital and anal areas, head, and udder of cattle".


Tim O'Byrne, an Alberta rancher, has designed a training course for livestock truckers and handlers. He states it is unnecessary to prod an animal that is either already moving or that has no place to move to. His Cattle Handling and Hauling Training Course teaches, "Systematic prodding of cattle is really nothing more than a bad habit, causing unnecessary stress and pain to the animal. The industry would like to see more people try to break this habit by: learning how to use a prod in a manner that is acceptable to humans and cattle; practising self-control until this bad habit is broken."

Use prods sparingly. If you and the animal are becoming agitated, it is better to back away and allow time to calm down. It takes approximately 20-30 minutes for an animal to relax after becoming excited. Consider spending this time discovering why the animal balked before attempting once more to move the animal through the handling facilities.

When Not To Use A Prod

The Code of Practice discourages the use of electric prods. Dr. Temple Grandin, animal behaviourist, has studied animal movement and designed handling facilities for ranchers and packers. She recommends that prods not be used on farms that raise breeding stock. The stress created by the use of a prod may impair the animals' immune system, reduce weight gain, damage rumen function, and reduce reproductive ability. Animals that are handled roughly and become excited or frightened will remember their experience and be much harder to handle the next time. Their level of anxiety or stress when entering the handling facility will be higher due to their memory of previous experiences.

Dr. Grandin has also studied cattle vocalizations as a measure of stress in crowd pens, single file chutes, and stunning chute areas at packing plants. Electric prodding was found to cause more than 50% of the vocalizations. She states that in plants with "excessive prodding, vocalizations significantly declined after the employees were instructed to tap the animals on the rear before resorting to an electric prod".

Dr. Grandin also found that rushing livestock during unloading after transport is a major cause of bruising. Loin bruises are often caused by 2 cattle becoming wedged in a truck door while running to get out of the truck. To avoid these unnecessary injuries, keep electric prod use to a minimum during unloading. A 1994 Purdue University study found that cows disliked being shouted at as much as being shocked by an electric prod.

AlternativesTo Electric Prods

During a 1998 study at several large slaughter plants, Dr. Grandin was able to reduce the use of electric prodding of beef cattle to 17% from 83%. This was accomplished by taking advantage of cattle's flight zone and natural movement patterns. The most common error people make when moving cattle is attempting to put too many animals into the crowd pen. It is preferable to fill the crowd pen only half full and to avoid pushing the crowd gate tightly against the cattle. If animals do not move readily into a single file chute from a crowd pen, discover why before applying the prod.

Many studies have been conducted on the use of cattle's natural movement patterns when moving and loading cattle. OMAF has articles that identify ways to make handling cattle easier on the handler and the cattle.

Bud Williams teaches a stockmanship school that stresses the need to change our basic attitude toward livestock. He believes that, by trying to control animals in 'the old way', we give up our chance to achieve the control we desire. He advocates the proper positioning of the stockman to apply enough pressure on the animals to move them in any direction they are physically able to go. Using fear and force to move cattle is very stressful for them. He takes the animal's natural behaviour into consideration and asks his students to change their behaviour instead. Animals in a "normal mental state" want to do certain things:

  • move in the direction they are headed
  • follow other animals
  • see what is pressuring them to move.


By taking a long look at your handling facilities and methods for moving cattle, you may save time and reduce the stress for both the handler and the cattle.

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