Question about Gathering

Posted July 13th, 2007 — Filed in Stockmanship

Question:  

I just come across an article [by Temple Grandin]. The more I read the more confused I get.

I don’t understand this concept of “loosely bunched”. May be it is what I am doing and I don’t recognize it. I don’t remember that you ever mentioned it.

Usually when I have to move a herd that is all over the place I just go across them trying to get them up and moving in one direction, and I keep going across in straight line. Sometimes, this could be one or two miles if I am alone. This looks like a long way and for awhile I lose eye contact with most of the cattle until I come back.

Then when I come back across in the other direction I do the same without paying too much attention if the cows are bunching together or not. The thing I am trying to achieve is to get the cows moving and give them a chance to mother up with the babies if necessary and not rush them. Then after advancing a mile or so I notice that the cows are joining with the others and going in the direction that is easier to change if I need it. They are “bunching” as a herd but not at the beginning. Should I try to bunch them first? My herds are from 300 to 800 head.

Answer:       No, you are doing exactly the right thing.

Temple doesn’t know how to either do or explain Bud’s methods. I have asked her before to “Please don’t use Bud’s name when you write livestock handling articles.”

Please don’t listen to her “windshield wiper” pattern across the back of animals. Turning up on the corners is about the worst thing you can do. Also, don’t pay any attention when she explains the predator/prey relationship. The LAST thing we want is for our livestock to consider us a predator.

The ranchers who come to our schools contact us if they are having problems. If Temple would have called, we could have helped her to correct what she was doing wrong so that she could have learned to work them “Bud’s Way.”

Eunice

First, I want to tell you that it is possible to place livestock in an area and have them stay there. They will even go out for water and return to the area on their own. I have done this with cattle, sheep and reindeer. The key to getting this kind of behavior is in the way you handle and drive the livestock. The video tells you how to do this. Sorry to say there are no shortcut. You can’t decide to use parts of what I do and still get the results I do.

We worked with a couple of ranches in Texas. One runs cattle and sheep, the other just cattle. They both use a rotational pasture system. When we first arrived, the livestock would be spread out over most of the paddock. The country is quite rough and brushy, and the paddocks are large. The stock numbers and paddock sizes are similar to yours (1000 acre paddocks, 6-800 head of cattle). Just in the ordinary ranch work and scheduled moves, the stock became a “herd.” When you found one, you found them all. If there was an area the stock didn’t graze properly, we could put them there and know they would stay. On the next rotation they would go there on their own. One of the ranches has since removed many of the fences. The owner said he feels the cowboy’s time is better spent with the livestock instead of working on the fences.

If you move your cattle by calling and want to do it FAST, you will have trouble getting them to stay where you want. Also, you pay quite a price in production because of the stress. We drive our animals to make the moves until they move quietly and with their calves or lambs. Only then do we call them. If they start acting anxious by running and leaving their babies, we will go back to driving them. I think you will find that your cattle and sheep will get to where they are so easy to gather and drive that it is much faster than moving them by calling, then having to go back and pick up the tail-enders. I can guarantee it is less stressful to the animals.

If you are truly interested, I’d like to suggest you attend one of my Stockmanship Schools. The only way I know how to teach my methods is by talking, answering questions, diagramming on a black board and by using videos. We have some excellent video that teaches even better than working with live animals. If you “missed the point,” we can replay it until everyone understands.

I wish I was a good enough writer to be able to put on paper exactly how to do these things. I’ll be glad to answer specific questions once you start trying to use my methods.

Sincerely yours,

Bud

To expand on Bud’s statement about placing livestock and have them stay where you want them to without the use of fences:

The traditional way of driving livestock is to get behind them and force or frighten them to move away, hopefully in the direction you want them to go. If they go the wrong way someone goes up along side to make them turn. The person riding up the side tends to slow the animals down which makes the people on the back end have to exert more pressure to keep them going. This push-pull action on the herd is very stressful to the livestock. It causes a natural herd animal to dislike to be in a herd. By the time you drive your animals to where you want them, no matter how good the conditions, they want to go back to where they felt safe, even if feed conditions are very poor there.

By working the animals like Bud suggests, they are going where they want to go. When they get there, they are not only content to stay there, but they seem to actually feel this is “home.” We are continually surprised at how cattle will travel across excellent feed to go to water, and then go back to an area that the rancher said they would never graze before, just because Bud put them there in the manner I described.

Maybe this incident will better illustrate. We were asked to put on a live animal demonstration at a university in California. When they asked Bud what kind of facilities he wanted them to set up, Bud said “Just set up anything that a rancher would normally do.” When we got there, we found a 40 acre field with a corral made of portable panels set up right in the center. The corral was made two panels one way and three the other so it was probably 24×36 feet with a 6 foot gate. When I saw what they had done, I was ready to leave.

It was about 11 AM, and the temperature was over 100 degrees. The pasture had a couple of nice groves of trees. The thirty heifers were shaded up when we arrived. They put the 50 spectators and a speaker hooked to a cordless microphone that Bud had on, at the other grove of trees. When Bud started moving the heifers, it was apparent that 28 were very gentle, one was pretty flighty and the other was a down-right spook. For about half an hour, he just worked the spooky animals until they would stay with the bunch and handle like the rest of the herd. Then he called the person out who had set up the seminar and talked him through putting the heifers in the pen. The pen was pretty full. They never did shut the gate, but the heifers didn’t indicate that they wanted out. This pen was right out in the sun.

We all went to lunch. One of the spectators went back about 20 minutes later. He said three heifers were standing just outside the gate. He stepped into the pasture and they went back into the corral with the others. After we had all had lunch we drove by and the heifers were still all in the corral, out in the hot sun.

By working the cattle the way Bud does, the animals quickly revert back to wanting to be in a herd. When Bud leaves the cattle some place, they seem to feel that it is the very best and safest place they could be.

Another incident that comes to mind took place in southwestern Alberta in 1990. We were spending a few days on this ranch to show them some things about low-stress gathering and sorting.

One morning we gathered a pasture containing about 200 cow/calf pairs and 137 heifers. We sorted the heifers off and drove them a mile or so to a ten acre, pie shaped paddock. This paddock had been part of an old alfalfa field. Most of the paddock was beautiful, lush grass/alfalfa mix. The water center was at the small end of the piece. The wide end of this paddock was out of the old hayfield and consisted of dry, coarse grass that the cattle had not even gone into on the last rotation.

The rancher asked Bud to show him how to “place” cattle so they would stay. At first Bud was a little testy thinking the guy was being facetious in expecting him to place cattle in a ten acre field. “No, no, I don’t expect you to be able to do it, I just want you to show me how, so I can use this with cattle on the range.” I guess we were in the paddock for ten or fifteen minutes moving the heifers up to the wide end of the paddock and getting them settled, then we went down to the house for lunch. We worked at the other end of the ranch that afternoon. From the house, we could see part of this paddock. In the late afternoon we saw the heifers going to water. The next morning, the rancher asked Bud to go back to this paddock and show him again how to place and settle cattle. When we got there, every heifer was either feeding or lying down on the wide end of the paddock, where we had left them the day before. When Bud and I left the ranch that afternoon, we drove right by this paddock. Again, all the heifers were at the wide end. They had walked across excellent green feed at least twice to water, but each time went back to where Bud had left them. The time involved to get them to react this way was the half day spent gathering and sorting them correctly. Driving them the mile or so to the paddock correctly, and the few minutes spent with them to defuse the “movement” that was still in them after they reached the area where we wanted them to stay.

I’m sorry to say, there aren’t any shortcuts. All of the things Bud talks about – less health problems due to less stress on the animals, better feed conversion and consumption, better utilization of pastures, working animals through the chutes and loading livestock with less stress on the people and animals are all just by-products of working the livestock like Bud teaches. There aren’t any special techniques to learn for specific jobs, though we often tell anecdotes of things we have done with animals in specific situations to help clarify a person’s thinking.

When we first decided to start the Stockmanship Schools, we thought we would hold separate schools for people who had been to one and were ready to move on. We soon found out that the problems the people were having with progressing on with their education went right back to the very basics.

Sincerely yours,

Eunice

I have been asked to give my opinion about the feasibility of herding livestock in open range conditions. I have been involved in this type of livestock work for a good many years and consider it not only possible, but preferable, under many conditions, to using fences to control the livestock. Following are a few instances which might give you some idea of what I am talking about.

1975 . . .Eden Valley Ranch, near Willits, California 27,000 deeded acres, plus Forest Service leases. There was one line fence on the west side. The north and south is bounded by a river which the cattle could easily cross. We had a few holding pastures near the buildings. This was the limit of the fencing. In the early Fall we brought in 3,000 head of 400-500 pound calves to winter here, along with the 200 first calf heifers that had spent the summer at Eden Valley. These were just auction yard calves. They were held in Arcata, CA for a week or so until they were weaned, then shipped to us in groups of about 300, twice a week. The livestock trucks could only get to the south end of the ranch. The calves were held in a pasture overnight. The next morning my wife and I would drive them the 20+ miles to the north end of the ranch where I wanted to start the grazing season. Since this country is very broken up with grassy openings scattered throughout the timber country, I was seldom able to have the entire 3,000 head in one herd. I rode every day placing the correct amount of cattle in an area I felt would hold them for two days. Depending on the feed, they were usually in bunches of 500 to 1,000 head. I started the grazing season on the north end of the ranch at about 2,000 feet elevation. By placing the cattle where I wanted them, we were able to complete the grazing of the north side of the mountain and have them over the summit (4,100 feet elevation) and grazing the south slope by the time the hard weather hit. There was only one time in the three years we managed this ranch that I had to go get cattle that had left where I had placed them.

1990-1995 . . . Alberta, Canada . . . The Bush Country. This is primarily muskeg, brush and softwood trees that grow very close together. There is just about room enough for a horse and one knee to go between the trees. The rancher I worked with said it usually took several people about two weeks of hard riding to gather the cattle in the fall, and even then, they were always short cattle. These would usually show up with the neighbor’s herd when the weather drove them out. I handled these cattle some during the winter just doing the normal things that had to be done. The next spring when we put them in the bush, I handled them the way I feel is necessary to make them content to stay where I put them. About twice a week I would move the herd to new feed. At no time did the cattle ever scatter out. If I did my job and left them where there was sufficient feed, they were always right there when I went back 2-4 days later. When we went up to gather in the fall, since the cattle were always together, three people had every animal in the corral in less than half a day. In the fall of the year, all the cattle in that part of the country travel through this area on their way home. Most years, the cattle decide to come in before the ranchers would like them to. In 1993, we saved a fenced in area to put our cattle in, in late fall so they would not get mixed up with the migrating herds. The only problem was, it was an extremely dry year, and the pond we were depending on for water had dried up. We had no choice but to leave the gate open so they could water at a nearby lake. They traveled across the path of the migrating herds twice a day to water, but they always went back to the pasture where I had left them to graze. Not one of our animals went with the other cattle.

1980 … Candle, Alaska . . . near the west coast of Alaska, right on the Arctic Circle. Reindeer running on five million acres. No fences except for the mile or so of wing fence leading into the corrals. The reindeer herd of 3,000 head which I looked after was located about 25 miles from Candle. The University of Alaska wanted to have a week long workshop for the people in the reindeer industry. I was in charge of furnishing the deer for the workshop as well as putting on some of the demonstrations. The old reindeer herders said “You will not even be able to drive any reindeer close to the village, let alone keep them there.” Since most of the reindeer work was to be done by a young Eskimo man who worked with me, I split the 500-600 head he would be working away from the main herd about two weeks before the workshop was to begin so we could spend a little extra time with them. We brought the reindeer into Candle the day before the people were to arrive so we could walk them up and down the airstrip to pack the snow. This way, the planes could land on wheels and not have to put on skis. We placed the deer on the hill just above the airstrip. More than 100 people attended the workshop. Since most of the planes only carried four or five people, it was a pretty busy little airstrip to bring in all the people and supplies for seven days. At least one person on every plane that landed told us “The reindeer will be gone in the morning.” Well, the next morning the reindeer were right where we left them. We gathered them up and drove them into the village where the various demonstrations were held. At the end of the day, I put them about a quarter of a mile from Candle where I knew the feed was good. Each day we would bring them into the village, and each evening we would put them back out to graze. Not once did they stray from where they were placed. At the end of the workshop we drove them back to the main herd.

Here is an excerpt from a letter I received from Zimbabwe, Africa.

“…..Cows calving at a good pace, but my ‘friends,’ the leopard and cheetah are still trying and in some cases causing havoc with the new born calves. Still pursuing with your principals of handling cattle with the emphasis on re-establishing the herd instinct as you did with the sheep at Joe & Dalton’s. The leopard and cheetah very much more aggressive. They will pull down an 8-10 month old animal. Having good success with some herds, but it is now dependent on the commitment of the herdsmen with each herd, thus the varied results . . .”

In my opinion, the skill of the herder is important, but not nearly as important as his dedication.

Bud

10/21/98

Yes, Allan, you are correct in saying the herder should be able to just go to the herd once a day, start them grazing in the desired direction or move them to a new area and settle them there and then leave. But, probably anyone who is vitally interested in the answer to that question will never be able to herd cattle. If you are going to try to do this on a schedule, you are doomed to failure.

The actual amount of time required is as long as necessary for the herder to learn the skills needed to allow the cattle to feel comfortable in a herd and to learn how to diffuse movement and recognize when this movement is gone before he leaves the herd.

By the time Bud did the ordinary winter chores with the 200 head cow herd here in Alberta, the cows were in the right frame of mind to stay together as a herd and stay where they were put when they went to the bush country in the spring. He only moved these cattle about twice a week, but they were always found in the area where we had left them, and they were always together. The opposite side of the coin is that improper handling through the winter can undo the training a herder has put into a herd, making them difficult to handle when they go out onto the range in the spring.

Staying together as a herd is a natural condition for cattle and sheep. Once they learn to stay as a herd, they will continue to do so unless conditions teach the animals that they are better off not being in a herd situation.

For Bud, the 20 mile trail drive from where we unloaded the trucks to where we wanted to start the grazing season was more than enough time to teach the 400-500 pound steers to want to be in a herd and to be satisfied to stay where they were put. Bud would try to move these cattle every day, but he always left them in an area that would hold them for two days in case he wasn’t able to get back to them the next day. In the four years we took care of the winter grazing for the 3,000-4,000 head of stockers, there was only one time that a group of about 300 head left the area where we wanted them.

There is really no difference between sheep and cattle herding. The reason a sheep herder stays with the herd 24 hours a day is for predator protection. A friend of ours in Northern California ran his sheep in about as rough a country as you will find. Much of it was very deep canyons and steep openings going right to the cliffs along the ocean. No one in this area herded their sheep (at that time -1960’s – there was no coyote problem, now the coyotes have pretty well shut down the range-sheep industry in that part of the country). The sheep were always scattered over most of the place. Along with his other sheep, he would buy a flock of about 800 head of yearling ewes from herded sheep in Montana. These would always stay together and he would move them every week or so to areas the other sheep didn’t graze properly. When this flock got old, he sold them all and started again with a new group of yearlings. These sheep never lost the tendency to stay together, but because of the way he handled them, if he kept replacements from this flock they would eventually start to scatter.

Texas – rotationally grazed cattle and sheep – paddock sizes about 1000 acres. These sheep had never been herded and always pretty well covered the whole paddock when they were grazing. Each paddock had one spot where they would congregate to bed down. The manure in this area was excessive to say the least. We started finding some sheep that had been injured as well as some dead animals caused by, what turned out to be a lame coyote. It took the trapper about a month to catch him. During this time, we penned the sheep every night. They were gathered the way Bud teaches. This amount of correct handling resulted in a flock of sheep that stayed together all the time. They grazed these large paddocks as well as if you had a herder with them, never going back over a grazed area, and bedding-down wherever they happened to be. They continued to do this for several months after we stopped penning them.

Eunice

June 10, 1997

Dear Eunice & Bud:

Thanks for sending me Bud’s comments on herding. I am particularly interested in the idea of placing cattle where you want them. The way I understand it, Bud works with the cattle by moving them around and getting them to trust him in so far as not penetrating the flight zone. When he places them in a spot he makes sure that the movement is taken out of the herd. Is the roughly correct? Can this technique be taught in a classroom or does a person have to work up to it?

I see great opportunities in controlling cattle by herding in some large allotments in the West. My concern is how much labor it will take and how to motivate the herder. My idea is to make the herder realize that he/she is the most important employee on the place and pay them accordingly. Any thoughts on this?

Thanks for the help.

Jim

Dear Jim:

Your conclusions are roughly (very roughly) correct. We move the cattle “correctly” not merely staying out of the flight zone. In fact, Bud pressures stock more than most people. The difference is that his position is where the animals want him to be.

One of the things we really emphasize in our schools now is the difference between good movement and bad movement in a herd. We have excellent video that we use in our schools which shows this much better than I can explain. Cattle that drive with good movement will be moving at a comfortable pace and going STRAIGHT. Calves will be with their mothers. This kind of movement will draw other cattle to it. If they go into a brush patch, they will come out on the other side with any animals that were in there to start with. If you have to leave them to work another area in the pasture, these cattle will continue on in the direction they are headed, or they will stop and graze. Cattle seem to feel very comfortable and protected when they are in that kind of a herd situation. When you get near your destination with that kind of movement, then check the movement up correctly so that the energy in the herd “dies a natural death” where you want them to stay, they will be content to call that home.

What we call bad movement is a herd of animals that are not moving out freely. Individual animals within the herd are moving across the line of travel or trying to cut back. There is often a lot of bumping and pressure from animals that the cowboys are turning back into the herd. This kind of movement will strip calves away from their mothers and cause even more commotion as they try to find each other. This causes the cattle to want to get away from the confinement of the herd. They don’t feel any comfort or safety in this kind of situation. Unless someone is with them every minute, they will cut back and scatter. When you are driving a herd with this kind of movement, other animals will not come to it. In fact they will often try to hide. When you arrive at your destination, the cow has only one thing in mind. That is to go back to where she feels safe, no matter how poor the feed conditions may be there.

We know several people who have learned to successfully reintroduce the herd instinct in their cattle and are able to place them where they want. I don’t know anyone who has been able teach a “hired hand” to do this. Working livestock like Bud teaches is very much against human nature. Ranch owners who can see the $ value (and especially if they are on the brink of bankruptcy or fear that if they aren’t able to keep the cattle where they should be they are going to lose their government leases) often have the motivation to put out the effort to learn to do this. A good first step toward learning is to go back over the video you bought from us in 1991. This is still the only thing we have available for sale that documents Bud’s methods, but it is really quite complete. If you will diligently try to work your stock this way, you will learn a lot about both your stock and yourself. Then if you can come to a two-day school when we are in the US next spring you will be in a much better position to fine-tune your abilities which is necessary for you to get the results you want. We are taking new video all the time and I think we have some exceptionally helpful footage to show what I am trying to tell you.

Sincerely yours,

Eunice

Received August 1999

Dear Bud and Eunice,

I thank you for your help on the phone last week. I appreciate your advice. Although I have been working with a number of riders in many places, I have been having particular success lately with helping two riders keep a herd together and place stock. They have been facing the common problem of having to move off their allotment pastures very quickly because the cattle ate off the riparian areas and left huge expanses of feed unused on the uplands. But the Forest Service makes them move to another grazing unit because they had not been able to control the stock and keep them from impacting the creeks too much. Now they can. After one and a half months of training in low stress handling and work with the stock, they are keeping two herds together (about 700 pairs per herd) on separate sides of a big canyon (15,000 acres and no fences except around the whole thing and one drift fence on one side) and controlling the results of grazing because they now have good control over the herd. The riders know at all times where all the stock are, they report much less sickness (pneumonia, pink eye etc.), and they have gained 17 more days on just two of the 4 pastures because of low stress handling compared to what the Forest Service was going to schedule for moves. They will easily gain another 15 additional days by seasons end. This is worth about $38,000 to the association because most of them would have to feed hay to the over 1,300 pair when they come off the allotment. It will only cost the association an additional $7500 to get this $38,000 benefit due to added grazing fees for the additional time and rider salaries. The range and the stock also improve for the future.

The main riders on this allotment are two 55 year old gals (women) who can’t rope with only a couple of pokey horses apiece to ride. They learned this by watching your video, read all your literature, got some help from me and just did it. They have a great attitude, learn fast and do just a few things right. Now they are teaching other association members how to do it. I helped them place a few herds a few times and now they have taken bunches of 600-700 pairs, set them 1/2 mile up the slope away from the creek, show them the water uphill, and they stay there all day and into the next. They don’t all stay right there sometimes, but the ones that drift don’t go very far. They are constantly improving at dealing with the small percentage that wonder too far and reducing these numbers daily. I wish all riders had the attitude these gals do, the success with this would be tremendous.

Steve Cote
steve.cote@idarco.fsc.usda.gov
USDA – NRCS
P. O. Box 819
Arco, ID 83213
208/527-8557

August 24, 1998

Dear Elizabeth,

Bud wanted me to write and let you know that his methods DO work with poultry. It will be a little more difficult with chickens and turkeys mixed together because you will have to have the patience to “work” the flock until they all handle the same, before you can move them to where you want them to go.

They are similar to cattle that have been fed from a bucket. They want to come to you instead of quietly move away. If you use too much pressure, they spook and scatter.

The first thing you must do is move back and forth, getting closer all the time. Don’t try to go from one side of the flock to the other, maybe just cover a 3 to 6 foot area. As soon as you can get the birds you are working to step away or even just turn their head away, smoothly enlarge your area on one side, and shorten on the other side so you are working new animals. At first, the more flighty birds are very wary of what you are doing and are just looking for an excuse to run. The more gentle ones are very curious and want to come to you.

This is the training time. Since you are not doing anything to threaten them, the flighty animals will calm down. Since you aren’t doing anything very interesting, the gentle birds will stop wanting to come to you. Then you can start to watch the whole flock and move where they tell you to in order to get them to go where you want.

Eunice