Question About “Placing” Animals

Posted March 15th, 2012 — Filed in Herding, Stockmanship

Question: . . . . I moved a little bunch of cows from one pasture to another the other day. I moved em like I think Bud would. I gathered em first then just stay moving across them from behind and steered by moving out wider if the need arose. It went real well moving as it always does when I handle them like I think Bud would. I took them to a 600 acre pasture we had cleared and burned about 40% of before the drought. It got a rain the day after the burn and a start, but nothing for over a year until this past October. I want to graze the 60%of the pasture that was unburned and uncleared that has plenty of grass though it is low quality. I want the cows to graze the low quality forage and leave the burned area alone. I was pressed for time (my mistake) and didn’t settle them when I moved them. I went back friday morning and gathered them and walked them up to a little flat and took the time to settle them, and they did. It took a good two hours and halfway through I was sitting on my horse thinking of my email to ya’ll when it occured to me that I needed to be patient and that I’d know when they were settled. For a while I felt like the little dutch boy sticking his finger in the dyke. I’d stop the drifting one way then it start on the opposite side and so on so forth. I definately knew when they settled, the bull lay down and then they all lay down and I left them. It appears that they learned to stay as a bunch, because they are always pretty close together and when I pressure them they bunch up, so that result is great, but they don’t stay up in the brush grazing the lower quality forage. Did I mess up by not settling them the day I moved them, or am I asking too much for them to stay out of the pretty green weeds and winter grass? Is 600 acres such a small pasture that it is home to them and I shouldn’t expect them to stay in a smaller area? I always remember Bud talking about settling cows in an area of low quality forage, and that they would walk through high quality feed to water and go back to the low quality feed to graze. If I’ve learned anything since I’ve been practicing Bud’s handling principles, it’s that he never exaggerates what can be accomplished with cows as long as I do it like he says, so I’m figuring I did something wrong somewhere along the way, or I heard him wrong. I would appreciate any thoughts ya’ll might offer?

Answer:      600 acres is not too small and what I have said about placing animals and having them stay is accurate.  Getting animals to stay in areas that you want is more about how you drive the animals there than it is about settling the animals after you get to the place you want them to stay.  The animals must feel happy to be at the new place and like being there more than any other place.  If they have to held there while they settle down this will seldom work. The animals may lie down but they are just waiting for you to go and when they get up will go where they want.

Any work to settle the animals should be done before even starting to take the animals to where they would prefer not to be.  Having animals stay in a group then graze where you put them is determined by what is done with the animals before and while they are being driven to the new place.

When you are approaching the area where you want to leave the animals it is important that the herd movement “dies a natural death.”  In other words, you stop doing the things that create movement (working back a forth across the back of the herd), and start doing things that tends to stop movement (riding in the same direction as the herd – whether along side or behind).  If you have miscalculated and the herd still has too much movement in it when you get to where you want them to stop you may have to go on a little further, make a proper turn and try again.

This is one of the things that I spent years learning how to do and know that it will work every time. When something like this is explained it sounds very simple and easy to accomplish.  This is only easy to do after a person really learns how to work animals properly enough that the animals feel very comfortable anyplace a person leaves them.  That’s why I could gather really wild animals that other people were not able to gather, then bring them to a corral, put them in the corral leave the gate open and the animals would stay in the corral until someone drove them out or after a length of time would slowly walk out of the corral. These animals had been worked in such a way that they wanted to go into the corral and felt it was a very safe place therefore why should they want to leave it?  This is how animals should feel when they are expected to stay in a new or different area.

Comment:    Thank you for getting back to me.  I see what you are saying.  I believe I got them to the pasture in good shape, but the day I got them there I didn’t settle them.  They seemed content in the pasture and have stayed together so I think I did ok getting them there.  In the past when I moved them with my former hand (who I was unable to explain your methods to clearly, and unable tell him your way or the highway,) We ‘d move cattle the wrong way and they’d beat us back to where we started.  I’m encouraged because this bunch seems content in the new pasture.  I think if anything I just didn’t really stop there movement correctly when I went back friday and moved them up into the brush and settled them.  They weren’t really trying to get away, but they were just drifting with thier heads down grazing.  I’d stop the drift on one side of the bunch and then it would start opposite of me or at the top or bottom of the bunch.  It took a couple of hours but they finally lay down.  How long should it take?  Or does it just take as long as it takes, 30 minutes or 2 hours?  Should I gather them again and walk them around a bit then take them up in the brush, stop there movement naturally by riding up along side in the same direction, and then try and settle them?    But after this moring, I’m not so sure it wasn’t a success.  When I settle a bunch, what should I expect as far as movement is concerned?   Are they going to stay in that area and only leave it to go straight to water or might they take all morning getting to water; kind of spreading out and taking a round about way getting there grazing as they go.  This morning when I fed my horses, the cattle were up in the brush.  I think they are at least bedding up in that area where I settled them.   I know it will be trial and error and I’ll just have to pay close attention to what I do and how they react, but I know what you say works, I just have to do it right.  I’m on my own again, so I don’t have to get anyone else to buy in to your methods.  I’ve bought in I just need to have experiences.  That’s the best way I know to learn.  I guess the clearest question would be, “What would it look like if I settled the cattle correctly up in the brushy side of the pasture?  Should I never expect to see them out in the burned and cleared area till the lower quality forage is played out?” How big is home when i settle a bunch of cows?       One last thing, if you don’t mind.  I remember you talking about needing to go move cows that are settled to new areas of a pasture before they run out of forage or they are lible to split up and go hunting new forage.  From what I understood you were talking about big pastures (several thousand acre pastures.)  If I remember right, I’ve heard, read or watched you say that doesn’t really apply in smaller pastures.  Cattle will take care of moving themselves in smaller pastures and still stay together in a bunch.  My largest pastures are 1500 acres and smallest are 600.  My understanding is that if I am successfull teaching them to be a bunch or a herd, that they will stay that way unless I do something to make them uncomfortable like treating them badly next time I gather and work them?

Answer:     You keep coming back to settling the animals after you get them to where you want them.  To succeed with this it is all about how the animals are moved to the new area.  It isn’t about settling the animals after you get to the area where they will be left.  The animals must be driven in such a way that they want to go there and feel as comfortable there as any other place.

This isn’t about time.  When done right it takes very little time and when not done right then there isn’t enough time to make it work.

This isn’t about settling the animals, it is working the animals in such a way that they are comfortable with what is done with them to the point that they will stay as a herd.  When worked properly, the animals like to be a herd and graze as a herd.  The size of the area is not important unless it is really small.  600 to 1500 acres should be plenty big enough.

The best way to learn this is not to be so concerned about the results.  What is important is to watch the animals and how they react to what you do.  Work the animals and see how they respond to what you do, until you learn how to move the animals in a way that they will get more comfortable the longer you drive them.  When driving animals close to properly, they will be settled during the drive and when the drive is over.

There is too much concern about the time it will take, size of area and settling the animals.  When this is done close to properly it will take very little time, and the animals will be settled when you get to wherever you want to leave the animals.