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A cattle prod is a device which is used to herd and control livestock. There are a number of different styles of cattle prod, ranging from electrified versions which encourage animals to move by shocking them to long flexible rods which are used to gently steer an animal in a particular direction. Many livestock supply stores sell cattle prods, which can be used on many types of large livestock, along with prods for smaller animals.
Outside the farming community, the term “cattle prod” conjures up an image of an electrified prod. However, cattle prods do not have to be electrified, and in fact many are not. When people who deal with livestock want to refer to an electrified prod, they may call it a “hotshot,” in a reference to a popular brand of electrified prod, or they may simply specify that an electrified cattle prod is under discussion.
People have been using livestock prods for centuries to manage their livestock, along with herding animals such as dogs and fencing which keeps animals contained in specific areas. Traditional cattle prods are sometimes referred to as goads, referencing the idea that the goal is to goad an animal into moving. A goad is designed to strike, poke, or steer an animal, depending how it is used, with some people using goads which resemble heavy clubs to move their livestock, while others prefer a lighter touch to deal with skittish cattle.
Often, a gentle tap from a goad will persuade an animal to go in a desired direction, especially when he or she is encouraged by fencing and a herd animal. In other instances, a goad may need to be used more firmly to gain control of an animal, especially when the animal needs to move in a hurry, as might be the case when a dairy cow shifts a hoof onto a farmer's foot during a milking.
In the case of an electrified cattle prod, an open electrical connection is created at one end of the prod when the prod is switched on. When the prod comes into contact with a cow or another animal, the animal's body closes the connection, causing a shock to pass through the animal's body. Since most animals do not enjoy being shocked, the natural response is to move away from the source of the shock. The strength of the shock varies, depending on the design and the setting; as a general rule, the shock is not strong enough to severely injure the cow, but it could hurt a smaller animal, such as a person.