Friday, December 2, 2011

Cattle Handling's Best Kept Secret

With all of the articles and videos on reduced stress cattle handling, how can there be a “secret?” To be honest, I didn't realize it was a secret until I started watching some videos on how to pull cattle in a feedlot. Time after time I watched the experts pass up perfect opportunities to to take advantage of this but they never attempted to use it. By not using it, their average time to make a pull in their videos was approximately eight minutes. As anyone who has ridden health in a feedlot knows, taking this long to pull a single cow is not feasible, especially during the fall run when a person may be pulling over 100 sick animals a day.
This secret no one talks about requires a handler to abandon conventional wisdom, human instinct and think like a cow. When a cow cuts across the pen conventional wisdom and human instinct both tell us to keep our horse parallel to the cow and get to the head so we can stop it. The problem is that (even when we are successful) we are putting pressure on the cow to speed up before it stops. If we get the cow stopped, we still need to get it turned towards the gate. If we don't get it stopped, we are starting all over again. So what is the best kept secret to keep a cow calm and turn in the direction we want?
The secret lies in thinking about what the cow is doing and removing both the desire and opportunity to do this. We cause the desire to go around us when we put on too much pressure. When we try to get ahead of the animal to stop it we are, for as long as it takes us to do so, are putting pressure on the cow to go faster. In order to slow the animal down and get it to turn the way we want, we need to take away both the pressure and opportunity.
To do this all we have to do is widen the gap between ourselves and the cow while still tracking it. As the gap widens the pressure we are putting on the cow lessens. At the same time we are far enough away that the desire to go around us also goes away. At this point the cow will either stop, or turn away from us.
If we train our horses to move laterally this will allow us to give cattle that extra space whenever a cow starts to cut across the pen and prevent it from happening in the first place. This one little “secret” will allow you to pull cattle not only in a calmer manner, but faster as well.

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