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. An electric cattle prod is a stick with electrodes on the end which is used to make cattle move through a relatively high-voltage, low-current electric shock The electric cattle prod is said to have been invented by Texas cattle baron Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. of the King Ranch around 1930, although versions were sold as early as 1917.
Ranchers and farmers typically use the term "cattle prods" mainly to refer to simple non-electrified fiberglass or metal goads used to physically encourage cattle into motion; 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).
In an electric cattle prod, which is the precursor to the modern day stun gun, dual surface electrodes produce a very high voltage/very low amperage electric arc between them, which, when pressed against conductive skin, produces a painful but superficial electric shock which stimulates the target to cease their current activity and move in the direction opposite the source of the pain. With higher amperage, the cattle prod is the equivalent of a stun gun and functions exactly the same way. Cattle prods are the precursor to direct contact electric stun guns used against humans, and their basic operating principles are the same: The major differences are primarily in the matter of size and power: cattle prods tend to have a higher electric current and a longer handle than stun guns, which is helpful when dealing with very large, powerful animals or humans as a torture device.
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Regular cattle prods can actually be anything from a baton (goad) or piece of pipe properly wired, to a manufactured fiberglass rod with a rubber handle or even a rectangular-shaped device similar to today's stun guns, which also feature batons. Most prods use two metal tips, but some are rubberized 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, which produce high voltage and can be effective on humans, regular cattle prods used on animals 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.
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 strong 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. As the precursor of stun guns, cattle prods also have a wide range of voltage with enough amperage to operate in the same manner as a stun gun does against humans. A stun gun is nothing more than a beefed up cattle prod and both can be used on humans or animals by design. Whether it is called a cattle prod or a stun gun, both units are shaped for easy carry and function in the same manner against animals or humans. Most are simple designs powered by 9-volt or a combination of other types of batteries. 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 fibreglass rod, ending with two electrodes in a rubber tip. This design is well-suited for use as a regular cattle prod.
The use of electric cattle prods has been debated by many people. Organizations such as PETA contend that the use of cattle prods is as much mentally harmful as it is physically. Most farmers contend that the short shock is minutely felt, and soon forgotten.
Usage on people, policing, torture and treatment
Cattle prods today are designed with a high range of voltages and amperages. If more powerful prods are applied continuously to the skin, the current (amperage) eventually causes heating, searing, burning, and scarring of skin at the contact point. Electric prods have found favour with torturers.
Prior to the development of stun batons and the taser, electric cattle prods were also used on people in varying degrees. Their first common usage on people occurred during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s; prods were first adopted by police officers in Alabama to use on black protesters and agencies elsewhere followed; Hotshot later developed an electric police baton.
A 2009 example of human torture with a cattle prod came to light 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.
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 (amperage) so as to maximize pain and minimize 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.
Cattle can be difficult to move and direct for a variety of reasons. Prods can be useful for moving stubborn or aggressive animals, 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,; however, cattle handlers cannot completely overcome the animal's decision not to move forward. After a few years of inoculations, many cows often realize that, if they can avoid certain areas, they will not get inoculated or treated.
This is dangerous and unhealthy for the animal itself, and it is also dangerous for the herd since a non-vaccinated or sick animal can become infective to the remainder of the animals particularly the baby animals. 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 unless, at 1200-1800 pounds, they decide they do not want to move into the treatment area, and then they refuse. Moving 1200-1800 pounds of unwilling animal becomes impossible, and when some animals see people only once a year when calves are weaned and cattle are vaccinated, they are not friendly and curious and willing but fearful and nervous and wary, and they refuse to cooperate. A rancher might then decide, for the good of everyone involved, to use a hotshot to get the cow into an area to be treated because a 1200-1800 pound animal can be very dangerous to the people trying to care for it as well as itself if it is not properly restrained.
Because animals need inoculations and treatments for sickness and other care, ranchers try to make the best choices for the animals and humans involved; however, sometimes the best choice does not happen, and every year, hundreds of people are killed by cattle. Since a hotshot, when applied properly, only bites the animal mildly, most animals will take a small jump step when it is applied. Although similar in function to a tazer, there is little comparison to a person being knocked onto the ground and writhing from the pain and electrical stimulus compared with a cow hopping 1-4" off the ground with its back legs and then looking around curiously to see why they are being "bitten" with an electrical shock. And having this applied to get them treated or keep them healthy is much preferred to taking them to market for all involved.
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 in many, but not all, cases. Significant work in this regard has been done by 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.
In popular culture
In Pretty Little Liars Season 7, Uber A throws water at Hanna Marin and then beats her with an electric cattle prod.
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- Grandin, Temple; Johnson, Catherine (2005). Animals in Translation. New York, New York: Scribner. p. 20. ISBN 0-7432-4769-8.
- 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, grandin.com
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