In my last post I described how to begin training cattle to act as a herd. When cattle begin acting as a herd, they will all be facing in the same direction when grazing, as in the picture. It doesn't matter if you have a herd of thirty, three hundred or over a thousand, the cattle will be facing the same direction like in this photo.
Their natural instinct at this point is for everyone to follow the lead animals. By simply taking advantage of their instinct to go by you, the cattle will automatically start up as you make your approach from the front. If you try starting them from the back you will not get them to go in the same direction. Starting the herd from the back is asking the cattle on the lower end of the pecking order to pass up the cattle which are higher on the order. Rather than pass them up directly they will tend to go around them, resulting in the cattle starting out in three different directions.
One thing you need to remember. Cattle are comfortable and relaxed in a tight situation if they feel it was their idea to do so. When you force them into the situation, it causes stress similar to being pursued by predators. Therefore it is in your best interest to handle them so that they want to act as a herd. Anything you do to work against their herd instinct will only make you work harder to move your cattle, let alone getting them to behave as a herd.
Another area of concern is turning your herd. When following a fence line, there is a tendency to ride between the cattle and the fence, from the back to turn them. This results in the back end turning before the front end and the cattle spreading out. When turning a herd in open country the tendency is often to ride at the shoulders of the lead cattle to force them to turn. Once again, the key word her is force. Anytime you are forcing the cattle to do something, you are creating stress in the cattle which creates more work for you and your horse.
When your cattle are acting as a herd (or if you are wanting them to start doing so) you need to take advantage of every situation to let them do what you want, rather than forcing them to do so. When the cattle are going down a fence, simply ride past the cattle from far enough out that you do not slow them down or stop them. When you are in front of the cattle turn and ride at an angle towards the lead cattle. As you are riding toward them, the lead cattle will actually speed up to go around you and turn in the direction you want. You may have to make an adjustment in how much they are turning, but with a little practice, they will be turning nearly exactly the angle you are wanting them to turn. Herd instinct will take over and the rest of the herd will follow on their own.
This same method will also work when changing direction in open country. Rather than forcing the cattle to turn set them up to go around you. For instance, if you want to turn the cattle to the left, ride ahead of the cattle on the left side of them. When you want them to turn, simply ride towards them at an angle. This will allow the cattle to follow their instinct to speed up and go around you. Once the lead has made their turn, you can simply stop and let the rest of the cattle to follow them.
You have probably noticed I use the terms “allow” and “let” quite a bit when describing how to move cattle. This is because when you are handling cattle correctly, you are only setting yourself up to take advantage of the natural instincts of cattle. Simply put, when you approach cattle in any manner their reactions are what their instincts are telling them to do. If you try forcing things you are working against their instinct to act calmly as a her. By keeping your patience and making the right approaches, you are allowing them to make their own decision to go where you want as a herd.
Next week we will discuss taking cattle through gates in a way which instills herd effect. If you have any questions be sure to post them in the comments and I will answer them!