Stress is an important component of livestock health problems and effectively limits performance. Sources of stress include shipping, weaning, acclimation to new surroundings, processing, pen riding, treating, and sorting. People can be trained in stockmanship and management techniques that eliminate stress during these procedures and, in fact, make handling episodes positive to performance, quality, and animal welfare. It is just a bonus that, by working your animals in this way, you will get the job done faster and with less stress on yourself and your crew.
My method of working livestock consists of learning to “read” what the animal is telling you and changing your position so that she wants to go where you want her to go. It is important that the animals do not consider you a threat to them. People have written many articles about my Stockmanship methods, but if they use predator/prey examples, you can be sure they do not understand the concept at all. The last thing I want my animals to do is to think of me as a predator. My goal is not only to work livestock with very little stress but also to take existing stress off of them. By handling the animals this way, you will be able to get the job done more quickly, efficiently, and with less cost than by the traditional methods. Some of the other by-products are increased performance and reduced health problems in the animals, as well as still being on speaking terms with the family after a day of working livestock together.
The proper positioning and pressure application when moving cattle, sheep, and other livestock is what makes them feel comfortable and willing to stay where you put them on the range. This same thing is what makes feedlot cattle gain better with less health problems or increases a dairy herd’s production. It is what makes a cow perceive you as a non-enemy so she isn’t “on the fight” if you need to handle her baby calf, and neither she nor her calf get overly upset at weaning.
The techniques are the same when you are working any kind of livestock. An elk or bison (or wild cow) will tell you that you are “close enough” when you are further away from her than a gentle cow or sheep will do, but she is telling you the same thing if you will only see it.
In order for you to learn to work livestock the way that I do, you must first change your attitude. This will probably be the most difficult thing I can ask you to do.
|I’m going to “MAKE” that animal do what I want.|
|I’m going to “LET” that animal do what I want.|
|That stupid||(#%$&, miserable, ornery, wild, hateful . . .)|
|cow||(calf, bull, sheep, pig, goat, horse . . .)|
|broke back||(went the wrong way, charged me, got sick, died . . .).|
|What did I do to cause the animal to react that way?|
The control we can have over animals is amazing. Thirty years ago I was considered pretty good at handling problem livestock. Knowing what I do today, I wonder how I even held down a job. To me, the exciting thing is knowing that I have only scratched the surface. I am learning and improving every day. You can too.
When trying to control animals the old way, you are giving up any chance of getting the kind of control I am talking about. Forget all of your excuses:
|She is afraid of the gate.|
|She remembers getting hurt in the chute.|
|She has never been through the chute before.|
|Etc., etc., etc.|
Believe that she is responding to what YOU are doing RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT!
The method of working cattle that is used today was developed in the Southwest over 100 years ago. It required rough, tough, people just to survive under the conditions that existed. They developed a system of working livestock that suited their temperament with no thought of the animals. Because of the turmoil and commotion that existed with this system, the sensitive people left the livestock industry. Therefore, this system has perpetuated itself. In fact, it is considered sacred.
Two factors are being felt at this time that are causing people to show a great deal of interest in my method of Stockmanship.
- ANIMAL WELFARE: People are becoming more concerned about the humane treatment of animals.
- ECONOMICS: It is a proven fact that stressed animals do not perform as well as unstressed ones. The methods I use reduce stress in both the livestock and in the people working them.
I would like to talk to you about some of the things I have learned about handling livestock. The methods I use have proven themselves with reindeer, elk, fallow deer, horses, hogs, sheep, and goats, as well as with beef and dairy cattle. While my method of stockmanship is quite simple, it is very difficult for people to learn because it often goes against human behavior. Remember, as a stockman, you are supposed to be the smart one. It is up to you to change to accommodate the animal.
I have had the good fortune to observe people working livestock from northern Alaska and Canada to Central America and from Oregon and California in the west to Kentucky in the east. Everyone uses the same basic principle: to go out and chase the animals from where they were to where the people wanted them to go. You probably realize I don’t think that is the best way to work animals. The traditional method of driving livestock consists of trying to frighten the animal away from the person, hopefully in the direction the person wants it to go. Using fear and force to move animals is very stressful to them. My method takes the animal’s natural behavior into consideration, but makes us change our natural behavior.
There are certain things animals want to do as long as they are in a normal mental state.
- They want to see what is pressuring them.
- They want to move in the direction they are headed. This may seem obvious to you, but if this is the case, why would you move behind an animal to make it go when moving into the animal’s blind spot will cause it to turn to see you?
- They want to follow other animals.
- They have very little patience.
Proper position on your part and nothing more is enough pressure to allow you to move livestock any place they are physically able to go. By you being in this correct position, the animals will want to move in the desired direction. Excessive pressure will put the animals into a panic condition where none of these things apply. Loud noise is almost always excessive pressure, especially loud noise directed at the animal such as yelling, revving the motor on your 4-wheeler, etc. Noise louder than normal conversation is not only stressful to the animals but detrimental to your objective.
As pressure is applied to move the animals, it must be released when they move, either by you stepping back or by the fact that they moved ahead and that takes the pressure off. Constant pressure with no let up or excessive pressure is what panics animals.
When animals try to cut back, they are being pressured too much or from the wrong spot. When you crowd the back animal too hard and there is no place for it to go, it will try to cut back. This is why the front animals should have pressure applied to them. As they move, there is room for the back animals to move into as they are pressured. The front animals should be pressured from the side. This allows the animal to move away from our pressure, which it wants and for it to be going where we want it to.
Do not apply pressure from behind an animal. Now listen to what I said. “Do not APPLY PRESSURE from behind.” You can walk along behind livestock all day and not cause any problem as long as you aren’t pressuring them. There is always a correct position. This spot moves as the animal moves. The angle you move in relation to the animal determines if you will maintain the proper position. The speed you move is important but not as important as the angle.
The animals need to feel they have two ways to go. Your position will cause them to choose the proper one. If they feel trapped or surrounded, they will panic and want to cut back. At this point, they no longer want to follow the other animals.
When pressure is applied to get a certain response, be sure to relieve the pressure when you get that response by you stepping back or by allowing the animal to move a step or two before you follow.
Work the leaders. If they are worked properly, the back will follow with little or no effort.
Read your animals. They will tell you what your position should be. Don’t try to anticipate what the animals will do as this will put you out of position and likely cause the very thing you are trying to prevent. “Whatever you anticipate, you will create”.
Moving back and forth while getting closer to the animals will tend to cause them to move away from you.
Moving parallel to livestock in the same direction the animals are going will tend to slow the animals down. This is very helpful if you are trying to settle animals that have too much movement. It is very detrimental if you are driving a herd since you tend to kill any movement the people on the back end are trying to generate.
Moving parallel to livestock in the opposite direction (front to rear) will tend to speed them up. Animals want to continue in the direction they are headed. When they see you coming, they will try to hurry past you.
I am not a good enough writer to be able to write a “How To” book. The 5-hour video Eunice and I have for sale of our presentation at the 1990 Stockman Grass Farmer Grazing Conference is quite complete as far as teaching my Stockmanship methods, though it is far from being a professional product. However, at this time it is the only thing available. Click here for more information on the video.
|If you have watched the video. . . .|
|If you have truly changed your basic attitude about livestock as I have suggested. . . .|
|If you will look to your animals to see if your position is right or wrong. . . .|
|If you will take responsibility for what the animal does|
Then you will be able to
continue learning on your own.
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