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A cattle prod, also called a stock prod, is a handheld device commonly used to make cattle or other livestock move by striking or poking them, or in the case of a Hot-Shot-type prod, through a relatively high-voltage, low-current electric shock.


Terminology differences

Ranchers and farmers use the term "cattle prods" mainly to refer to fiberglass or metal rods used for encouraging cattle to move; the majority of people living outside of rural areas use the term 'cattle prod' exclusively for the electrified variant. Most ranchers and farmers refer to electric cattle prods as "hotshots" (this is an example of a genericized trademark; one of the most prominent brands of electric prod is Hot-Shot).[1]

Regular prods

Regular cattle prods can actually be anything from a stick (goad) or piece of pipe, to a manufactured fiberglass rod with a rubber handle. Most prods also have a rubber tip, though some have metal tips with dull barbs (in a similar design to a fire poker) for herding stubborn animals. A Wiffleball bat is also often used as an effective prod because the hollow plastic bat makes a sharp ringing sound when slapped against the skin.

Unlike hotshots, regular prods are simply used to tap, strike, or poke an animal (usually on the flanks), depending on how stubborn the animal is. Sometimes, a prod can be used as a sort of "extended fence", allowing one to simply intimidate skittish animals away from open gates or downed fences without having to touch them.

Electric prods

Electric cattle prod from the 1950s.

A hotshot is typically cylindrical, and can carry an open electric current at the "shock end" when activated. The electric current at the shock end runs through two metal electrodes. Anything that touches the electric current receives a high-voltage low-current shock, not strong enough to kill a human or a large animal such as a cow or sheep from short-term exposure, but it is enough to cause significant pain.

The electric cattle prod is designed to apply a painful shock to cattle, and thus "prod" them along; the pain stimulates movement. Some higher-voltage prods can interfere with radio and CB radio reception when activated.

There are various designs of electric cattle prods. Their shape is often subject to guidelines of what can easily be used and handled. They range in length from six inches (usually of a more encased rectangular prism design like a stun gun), to up to six feet. Anything out of that range is usually too heavy and unwieldy for practical use. Another typical design is a box containing a large battery (or battery pack) at the handle end and wires embedded in a fiberglass rod, ending with two electrodes in a rubber tip. This design is well-suited for use as a regular cattle prod.


Animal welfare

The use of electric cattle prods has been debated by many people.[2][3] Organizations such as PETA contend that the use of cattle prods is as much mentally harmful as it is physically.[4] Most farmers contend that the short shock is minutely felt, and soon forgotten.[5]

Usage on humans for torture and treatment

Prior to the development of stun batons and the taser, electric cattle prods were also used on humans. Their first common usage on humans occurred during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s; prods were first adopted by police officers in Alabama to use on African-American protesters and agencies elsewhere followed; Hotshot later developed an electric police baton.[1] A more recent example of human torture with a cattle prod came to surface when a video was disclosed showing Issa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the brother of crown prince of Abu Dhabi inserting a cattle prod in an Afghan business associate's anus after falling out with him.[6] An electric prod can be an effective torture device for humans and other animals alike.[7] If applied continuously to the skin, the current eventually causes heating, searing, and burning and scarring of skin at the contact point.

The picana is an electric prod based originally on the cattle prod but designed specifically for human torture. It works at very high voltage and low current so as to maximise pain and minimise the physical marks left on the victim. Among its advantages over other torture devices is that it is portable, easy to use, and allows the torturer to localize the electric shocks to the most sensitive places on the body, where they cause intense pain that can be repeated many times.

Electric prods have been used for the control of adverse self-injuring behavior in mentally handicapped people. This use is regarded by some advocates to be more effective than drugs since the experience of a shock is very short and temporary while using a drug may have long-lasting sedative effects.[8]


Temple Grandin's interest in animal welfare began with designs for sweeping curved corrals, intended to reduce stress in animals being led to slaughter.

Cattle can be difficult to move and direct for a variety of reasons. Prods can be useful for moving stubborn or aggressive animals,[9] but often cattle will not move forward when they are fearful of something they see, hear, or smell. Removal of these distractions or hiding them, such as with solid wall partitions, can greatly reduce animal handling problems.[10] If the animals are relaxed and comfortable with the handler and feel safe in the working environment, the cattle are in fact quite friendly and curious, and will happily follow the handler without any need for forceful punishment.

By studying the psychology of the animals and redesigning the working environment it is possible to handle the animals without the need for brute force and causing pain and suffering to the animal. Significant work in this regard has been done by autistic Colorado State University professor Temple Grandin to study how cattle perceive the environment around them and to design better livestock slaughterhouse handling systems that do not induce fear into the animal.[11]

Food quality of gently handled animals

Beef producers acknowledge that rough handling methods should be avoided when animals are being sent to slaughter, and that it is to the benefit of the rancher to study ways to manage animals in a calm manner without rough handling and which can calmly direct animals in the desired direction without excessive force or excitement.[12]

Overly excited animals have a greater potential to slip and fall, leading to bruising of the skin and muscle, and a poor meat grade by the packing plant meat inspectors. Likewise, animals that are startled and excited to the point of running into barriers or other animals can cause deep flesh wounds, which results in scar tissue and the loss of valuable meat sections in the slaughtering and processing phase. Stressed animals are also more likely to become ill.[9]


  1. ^ a b Rejali, Darius (2007). Torture and democracy. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 228. ISBN 0691114226.  
  2. ^ Book: The Welfare of Cattle, By Jeffrey Rushen, Anne Maria De Passille, Marina A. G. von Keyserlingk, Daniel M. Weary, Contributor Jeffrey Rushen, Anne Maria De Passille, Marina A. G. von Keyserlingk, Published by Springer, 2007, ISBN 1402065574 / ISBN 9781402065576, 310 pages
  3. ^ Editorial: A cattle prod for USDA, Saturday, February 23, 2008 - Slaughter plant workers videotaped shocking sick cattle with prods to keep them on their feet before slaughter [1]
  4. ^ Link to PETA website, Cruelty to Animals: Cows
  5. ^ Friends of Rodeo Fact Sheet, discussing use of cattle prods. The electric cattle prod is a humane device when properly used. [2]
  6. ^
  7. ^ Magazine article: Trading in Shock: Electroshock weapons have become a favoured tool of many of the world's torturers. The 'torture trail' has often begun with companies in Europe and the US. New Internationalist, Issue 327, November 2000, (link to article) [3]
  8. ^ News article: Autistic man's care renews shocking debate, Associated Press, Wed., March. 14, 2007, Bradley Bernstein’s parents say an electric cattle prod is the only thing that stops him from banging his head and violently punching his eyes, nearly blinding himself. [4]
  9. ^ a b Grandin, Temple; Johnson, Catherine (2005). Animals in Translation. New York, New York: Scribner. p. 20. ISBN 0743247698.  
  10. ^ Link to Temple Grandin's website page, discussing common distractions that prevent animal movement through chutes and gates, with pictures of the distractions from the animal's viewpoint.
  11. ^ Grandin, T. "Best Practices for Animal Handling and Stunning", Meat & Poultry, April 2000, pg. 76.[5]
  12. ^ Florida Cow-Calf and Stocker Beef Safety and Quality Assurance Handbook: Quality Control Points, University of Florida, IFAS Extension office, Link:


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