Mothering Cattle

Posted January 14th, 2015 — Filed in Stockmanship

One of the cattle forums I monitor had a discussion about ear tagging calves at birth. Many of the contributors were adamant that you HAD to do this in order to know which calf belonged to which cow which prompted my reply …

This is another case of technology dumbing us down. Mothering up cattle is a skill that, from the sounds of the comments, is well on the way to being lost. We were at a large ranch in Texas a few years ago where Bud had spent the week working with the crew. The last day they gathered a very difficult pasture. The manager wanted 100 pairs sorted out of about 800 head to send to another ranch. Bud was able to do this quite easily, out in the pasture and sending the cuts through a gate into another pasture. Every one of the 15 or so cowboys who were there agreed there were no mis-matched pairs in his cut.

When we were working at the feedlot in Canada, the owner asked Bud to bring in a certain pair. We never worked with his cowherd and weren’t familiar with the individual animals. When Bud brought the cow and calf in the owner said “You have the wrong calf. The ear tags don’t match.” Bud said “I don’t know about the ear tags, but this is her calf.” And it was …

Then I got this message on my personal e-mail …

Thanks for all the input on Pharo’s forum! I was wondering how Bud paired up pairs? I’m just going to admit that my mind is blank on how you pair up pairs could you explain or is it on your videos that Terry ordered haven’t got clear thru them yet!

Hi Jerry, There isn’t anything specific about teaching you to pair up cattle in the video. This is something you need to observe when you are around your cattle. Pay attention and watch the interaction between the cow and her calf. Drive them a little ways and notice how they act towards each other in various circumstances.

It is very common practice to pair up cattle after driving cows and calves in big country. Even though the calf “met with its mother” on the drive, often it is disoriented when the herd gets to its destination and it will go back to where it nursed last. We were working with a ranch in New Mexico, driving about 700 head of cattle to their summer range. We went through several gates and had one particularly difficult creek to cross. It had very high banks and the trail down into it turned back and had a sharp slant to the bottom. They said the cows were no trouble, but the calves would miss the trail then run back and forth along the bank. They said it often took them an hour or more to get the calves across. We showed them how to start and drive the herd properly. When we got to the bad creek crossing the cows took their calves across with no problem. When we got to the area where they wanted to leave them, the owner left us and started pairing out the herd. I said “Bud, what is he doing?” Bud said “He’s making sure they are mothered up.” I said “I remember, we used to do that at Lone Pine, didn’t we?” About that time the owner came back and said “This is pretty foolish, they are already mothered up.”

This is kind of a long-winded reply but it explains why it is sometimes necessary to be able to know which calf belongs to which cow, but more importantly how important it is to learn how to move cattle long distances without mis-mothering them in the process.