My Two-cents Worth

Posted July 12th, 2009 — Filed in Herding

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.

Eunice