Stockmanship Learning Curve

Posted April 8th, 2016 — Filed in Stockmanship

I’m pasting below a story that I received from the wife of a ranching couple who took one of my beginning stockmanship clinics. They both really bought into it and tried hard to implement what they learned, and they had many successes. Then the wheels fell off. This is their story and how they remedied it. I think it’s very illustrative of what probably happens to a lot of people, and the readers of the subscription site might be interested in it. Your call.

Whit Hibbard – Stockmanship Journal
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A couple weeks after you were here, we had the vet booked to preg check a large bunch of our cows in the afternoon. We thought it would be a great idea to ride out in the morning and get them in early so we could do a dry run through the chute before the vet showed up.  We were feeling pretty confident since everything had been going so swimmingly with all our new found low-stress skills.  All we needed to do was gather them from the pasture they were in, bring them through one gate, and travel another two-hundred yards into the corral. Simple right?

Well, things were a little rocky from the start. The cows just didn’t seem to want to line out. It was a bit frustrating, but we kept our cool (for the most part), eventually got them through the gate and we thought we were golden. Just a short distance to the corral! However, the cows had other plans. As soon as they got through the gate all the cows wanted to do was head west, away from the corral, or stop completely and graze. We either had a lot of movement going the wrong direction, or no movement at all and Nathan and I were getting spread thin. This went on for a long time with us getting nowhere until I finally lost it. I rode back to our house (which is close by if you recall), tied my horse to a fence post, and hopped in our ATV. I needed something with a little more gas! I proceeded to, as Nathan described it later “mad max it around” (if you’ve seen the movie you will understand that reference). It felt great, at least for the short term. I hooped and hollered and nearly ran cows over. It wasn’t pretty, but I lined those bitches out! We finally made it to the corrals. Five minutes later the vet showed up. We got through the rest of the day but the cows really didn’t work so great. They were nervous and stressed. So were we. To be honest the cows were probably behaving about how they normally do when we preg check, but this time it just seemed like a personal defeat.  We had such high hopes for something better. We ended the day feeling deflated. Why hadn’t our new tools worked? Nathan and I mulled it over throughout the evening. It really bothered us.

We had plans to move them back up to their fall mountain pasture the next morning, which is what is done every year after we preg check. It marks the end of our fall cow work. However, both of us decided we could not leave things like this. So, instead, the next morning we got up and did it all over again. However this time, we kept our heads, didn’t freak out when things weren’t working, paid attention to what the cows were telling us, and adjusted our movements and actions accordingly. We made sure to get the cows moving together smoothly and cohesively before we went through the gate, so when we did finally go through it, we had them working for us before we even got to the corral. It felt good and we are so glad we took the extra day to make the situation right.

Long story short, I can understand why people resort back to what they know and are comfortable with. When you get excited about something new, and then you perceive it to have failed you, it feels so much worse than if you never had the high expectations to begin with. I do not think low-stress handling failed us. I think that day was a combination of us not reading the situation correctly and adjusting our strategy appropriately, and the cows being used to a different way of being handled for many years. Just like with a horse, they need to be retrained, and so do we. Although it sucked, we probably learned more from that failure than all the successes we’ve had. I don’t know how to get that point across in your clinic, but I’m willing to bet that’s why a lot of people don’t stick with it.