Friday, December 14, 2012

Grazing the Impossible

   Since my last post, we changed our grazing plan to include grazing Giant Sacaton, which most people think cattle will not eat. There is more about that  on the Circle Ranch website.                
     Other than a problem with the water that had the cattle spread out, searching for water,  the cattle have been generally staying in the areas I put them. There were roughly 25% that did not like the Sacaton, so I pushed them on the side of a "hill" and let them work it. This "hill" is one of those areas which are left out of grazing plans because they are "too steep to graze.

    The owners of these cattle are amazed that these cattle are grazing this high as they have similar country which goes unused because the cattle refuse to graze it. All it took to get them to graze it was to start them up the hill very loose and let them work their own way up. Rather than putting pressure on the back, ride down the side of the cattle so that the ones in the back pick up and move with no pressure from the back. The feed is there and it is good enough that the cattle stay high and keep working. This will improve the hydrology from the top down by producing more feed when the rains come.

     The cattle are also starting to act more as a herd. In the picture below, the cattle are leaving water on their own. Notice how they are trailing out in single file, following the first animal to leave, and going back to where they were previously placed. There are approximately 180 head strung out up that trail.

In the video below, you will see the cattle grazing in the Giant Sacaton.  As we are having calves born nearly  everyday, when I make a pasture move I leave the gate open just in case a calf was left behind. None of the cattle went back.

In the next couple of weeks I will be grazing some more areas that are "too steep" to graze. In the meantime I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas. If you are still shopping for Christmas, there is time to order some of my books from Amazon in both paperback and kindle. They are available at 2lazy4U Livestock & Literary Company

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cowboys Agreeing With Animal Rights Groups?

     A recent conversation began with a person complaining that the feedlot he was working in was putting fresh calves on a straight ration without feeding any hay. The participants of this discussion were all men who take pride in handling cattle with the least amount of stress, and keeping their death losses as low as possible. By the end of the discussion, we all agreed that perhaps we were more in agreement with animal welfare groups and food activists than we are with the cattle feeding industry.

   The basis of this conclusion stems from what we have been told by nutritionists and feedlot veterinarians that the bottom line shows it is more profitable to push cattle too hard on feed than taking two weeks to start them without the acidosis caused stress and resulting death loss. Aside from the fact that this line of thinking aligns directly with views of PETA, HSUS and natural food activists, it is also dead wrong on the profit/loss margins.

   Every animal being treated is a cut into profits, as is every animal that dies. Bud Williams has proven numerous times that it is possible to cut both morbidity and mortality rates in feedlots by 50% just by changing the way cattle are handled.  Despite this, the feedlot industry seems to think they can increase profit by mass treating every pen of calves then pushing them on feed so hard that they are guaranteeing they will lose more cattle and spend more money on drugs (not to mention the overtime for pen riders and hospital crew.)

   One study by Dr. Pete Anderson  shows that pens of 700 lb steers with no death loss gained 13% faster and had 9% lower feed conversion values than pens with 2% or more death loss.  There is a direct correlation between morbidity in feedlots with not only cattle handling procedures, but in the acidosis related stress by pushing cattle onto feed rations too fast. 

   By taking the time to start calves a little slower, and emphasizing low stress cattle handling techniques feedlots would be eliminating half (or more) of their antibiotic costs, over half of their death losses while increasing feed efficiency. This all adds up to higher profits for the feedlots. At the same time, it takes the wind out of the arguments of animal welfare groups and those who want a safer food supply with fewer antibiotics and hormones. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Grazing Alkali Sacaton

 Normally sacaton grass is burned off and grazed early in the year as cattle "refuse" to eat it when it gets taller.  Just out of curiosity, I placed roughly half of the 420 cows into a sacaton draw. The results are pretty dramatic and show that cattle really like this grass when it is at a stage where there is green underneath the cured grass. Almost a perfect diet as they are getting roughage and protein in every bite.

As you can see in this picture, this grass appears as if it would be too dry and coarse for cattle to graze...

However as you can see by the following picture, that assumption is wrong

 Normally cattle will not graze alkali sacaton on their own at this stage. Yet these cattle, even though they have access to several kinds of gramma and bushy muley in this pasture, had to be pushed out of this area to utilize the rest of it.

From the standpoint of a recreational ranch trying to develop habitat, this is leaving cover for quail while at the same time, creating visibility for them to see approaching predators.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Herding A Bovine Potpourri

Some people have asked how herding cattle in this way is more efficient than controlling them with fences. For starters, you don't have to buy, build and maintain (or continually move) extra fencing,and you need fewer water points. Using this method on yearlings or dry cows (and receiving them all at once) is much, much, easier than receiving a Bovine Potpourri a little at a time. Despite the challenges, and necessary adjustments the program is still working, and improving.

One adjustment I've had to make is using more than one water point. It seems that these cattle have a tendency to jump in the five foot drinkers and stand there, then break the float on their way out. Once, I saw  a cow standing in a drinker with her calf next to her, nursing (something I have never seen before.) This forced us to designed and install a modification to the existing float guards which will hopefully take care of this problem. While having to work off of more than one water point makes it take longer to place cattle, it has been a learning experience. 

The second pasture in the rotation I  had five water points to work off of. The interesting thing was that, even though the cattle were mixed where they were grazing, they would return to the water point they came from. In the case of grazing associations, this could have some benefits if the herd instinct was instilled in each herd before going to summer pasture. The association rider could place the cattle on different water points, and keep the cattle separate within the same allotment. At the end of the grazing season it would be simple to gather each owner's cattle separately, and decrease the shrink involved with sorting several herds simultaneously (which would in return, increase profits a minimum of 3 to 5% ).

Despite the difficulties this particular project has, it is still working. Rather than spending money on labor building and maintaining (or moving) fences several times a week (or daily), one person spends three days placing cattle where they need in the pastures. Because of the social and physiological differences within this herd, and using multiple water points, placing within the pasture does take all day. If the water system was simplified to a single water point, and the cattle were all the same class, placement within the pasture would take four hours or less (for a total of 12 hours of labor per week.) 

Despite  the diversity of this group of cattle and using multiple water points, we are still getting the desired results of taking roughly a third of the forage and also getting animal impact distributed across the pasture, as shown in the following photograph.                           

 While they are spread out to fit feed density, the following picture shows roughly 100 head working as a herd. Notice how they are all grazing in the same direction. Once we make the next pasture move at the end of next week, we will be able to wean the bigger calves at a set of pens next to a water point. Once the cows have bawled off, I will start all of the cattle up a canyon in the direction of the next pasture in the grazing plan  and allow the cattle to sort themselves into two groups.

Open cattle, older calves, bulls and those in the first and second trimester of pregnancy will pick up and move out easily, while those cattle in their third trimester, calves under a month old and older thin cows with calves on them will take their time getting started. This will make it easier to instill the herd instinct into the cattle and (hopefully) keep the bulls away from the cows which are calving. (One problem with running bulls year round is that 12 to 24 hours before calving, cows change from producing progesterone to estrogen. This change in hormones causes cycling cows and bulls to seek out and ride cows beginning to calve, causing dystocia.)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Week Two of Holistic Herding on 32,000 Acres

One thing I want to emphasize before going any farther, is that instilling the herd instinct happens much faster when when using the same class of cattle in a herd, and all of the cattle arrive at the same time. This project is being done with the cattle coming in over a period of three to four weeks, and consisting of everything from open yearling heifers, to older dry cows, to week old pairs and calving cows.
Instilling the herd instinct in a mixed group of cattle like this is harder (but not impossible) as the younger open cows move out readily while the springers will move slower, and cows with young calves have to pick up their babies and can only move as fast as their calves. Never the less, The cattle are basically grazing the areas of the pasture they are being placed into.
As mentioned in last week's post, the weather threw a kink into the program when a cold front moved in ahead of a storm and the cattle drifted into the brush. Tracks showed that the cattle were staying together until one part of the herd hit a fork in the trail and split them into two bunches. Somewhere in the middle of the brush, part of the one group stopped while the other kept going into the next pasture, as the fence has been down in that area for years. As Monday was my day for changing pastures anyway, I gathered the draws and placed those cattle in the southwest corner of the new pasture. The following video shows how easy it is to gather in the brush and put the cattle through a gate and still have the cattle paired.

Because of the way things wound up the first week, and the move, the cattle are now in three groups, watering in three different places. Despite this, the cattle are still grazing in the same general area of the pasture, it just requires me to pick up each group off of their water point and place them. When they go to water, each group is going back to the water point they are familiar with. Despite the current stage in the training process, we are still getting the desired animal impact from concentrating the cattle as in the picture below.

When I make the move into the next pasture, the cattle will be placed into two groups on two different water points. The open cattle, cows in their first or second trimester, along with older pairs will be place on one water point, while the young pairs and cows ready to calve will be placed on a second water point. Because of their different rates of travel, this will be easy to accomplish as the first group will travel faster. I will have a person helping me on this move and one of us will simply bend the second group to one water point and hold them while the other continues with the other group to the desired water point. This will allow me to graze two different parts of the pasture simultaneously while working each with each group to get them to acting as a herd. The cattle will be in this pasture for 14 days before being mixed together as one herd. The move after the next pasture will be long, and up a steep grade. At this point the cattle will probably once again be ran as two herds in the same pasture. This would not be necessary if all of the cattle were open, or at approximately the same stage of pregnancy (or had the same age calves).
The optimum situation would have been to have all of the cows dry (or yearlings) and to have received them all at the same time. This would have shortened the training period from 4 to 5 (or 6) weeks to only a couple of weeks. However using different classes of cattle, receiving them over a period of 3 to 4 weeks, and training them in pastures with brush is allowing me to demonstrate that there are not many situations you cannot instill the herd instinct into cattle.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Herding Through a 32,000 Acre Grazing Plan (without small paddocks)

This is the first in a series of blog posts on using low stress cattle handling methods to grazed cattle holistically through an intensive grazing plan. The Circle ranch is basically a recreational hunting ranch that was in extremely poor condition when the Gill family acquired it. They have been steadily improving habitat and forage diversity/density through a combination of sub-soiling and holistic grazing.

Through this winter I will be herding 400 cows through a 32,000 acre grazing plan on the Circle Ranch in far west Texas, owned by Chris and Laura Gill and their family. The grazing plan was developed by Guy Glosson who is both a low stress cattle handling expert and holistic manager.

The key to this method is designing your water system so that you can water all of the cattle at one water point. On the surface, this may seem to be a big expense, but once you do this, time and money is saved by having fewer water points to check and maintain. Benefits to this method are
  1. You can follow grazing plans without the expense of buying, moving and maintaining large amounts of electric fence.
  2. You see your cash crop (cattle) several times a week and keep on top of health issues.
  3. Areas grazed are done so more uniformly when cattle are acting as a herd.
  4. Desired animal impact is concentrated and more effective when cattle are acting as a herd.
  5. You can graze rough or rocky areas not normally grazed.
  6. It is possible to precision graze the areas you want, while giving rest to other areas by cattle placement.
  7. Cattle tend to run off coyotes when grazing as a herd (possibly wolves as well).
  8. Cattle working as a herd are easier to manage in riparian areas.
  9. Cattle being moved in this way are easier to handle in the working pens, adding to shipping weights through less stress induced shrink.
  10. As cattle are consistently being moved to fresh feed, without stress, ADG's on yearlings, and weaning weights will be higher.

The following picture is an example of precision grazing. If the cattle had been completely trained when grazing, the impact would have been more concentrated.This area had been basically bare ground before sub-soiling. After the rain, forbes and a little grass grew on this spot. I placed the cattle on this area, where they returned for two days. You can see that grass has been grazed, and weeds have been trampled, as well as some fertilization. Next year this area will have more grass and forbes as a result of the combination of sub-soiling and grazing.

Depending on the class of cattle, and environment the training period will take anywhere from a week to five weeks (Rugged or brushy terrain will take longer, as well as cows with a lifetime of being scattered out) The training period on this set of cattle will most likely take three to four weeks as the cattle are coming in a few at a time. The first 100 dry cows came in on Saturday September 21st with an additional 53 pairs added on the 22nd. The following picture was taken on September 26th, with the cattle basically acting as a herd.

On the morning of the 27th, the weather changed with a big temperature drop and the cattle headed into the brush, splitting into two groups, with one group splitting again. I added another 60 pair on the 29th, with the weather being cold and rainy (had 1 ½ inches over 24 hours). On Monday, October 1st, I will start putting them back together.The following picture was taken the day before the weather drifted them into the brush.
Next week will be spent re-grouping, changing pastures and adding cattle. I will be posting the procedures and results as well as pictures and hopefully video.

Friday, July 27, 2012

New Source For Low Stress Stockmanship

Finally there is a source of information on low stress cattle handling that reaches out and encompasses more than just the few wel known names in the industry. Whit Hibbard is a fourth generation rancher from Montana with a P.H.D. in Human Science that applies appreciation for scientific rigor, critical thinking, evidence-based rationality, and empirical research skills to the study of stockmanship.

His new Stockmanship Journal combines both science based information as well as evidence-based rationality through a combination of articles and video. Perhaps the first page to visit is his video montage which includes video clips of low stress stockmanship in action.

Until later, keep your cattle calm and your horses top side up!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Low Stress Cattle Handling, Hype or Fact?

Like most of us, I am confused by the way the beef industry is trying to get the cattle industry to use low stress cattle handling methods. If my own first hand experience had not already taught me better, I would think that low stress stockmanship is just a worthless bottle of snake oil. We must remember that this isn't about forcing cattle to go where we want, but acting in a manner which makes cattle think it is their idea.
Twenty years ago, when I first saw an ad for a cattle handling seminar I laughed. At the time I was working under a manager who was a big fan of Bud Williams, and shortly after the ad came out, this man and the cowboss went to Bud's seminar. To me, this pair was pretty confused to begin with, but when they came back, they seemed to be worse off than before attending the seminar. It was fairly obvious that this so called low stress cattle handling was just a bunch of snake oil...Or was it? The following spring I was informed that I was going to be attending a seminar with one of the other hands. Was I irritated at having to go waste time attending? Yes. Was it a waste of time? Most definitely not!

To me, nearly all of what Bud Williams was teaching was very obvious, as I was already doing it. However to most of the people attending, it was hard to understand. Perhaps the most confusing thing for people to understand was putting cattle through a gate by working the gate on a “T” with the person in front putting the cattle through the gate and the people in the back doing no more than necessary to keep the cattle in the back, facing to the front. This concept is simple, and Bud shows video of doing this in several different situations, yet people kept asking questions of how to do it for over half an hour. By this point the realization set in that Bud knows what he is doing, but people have a hard time grasping the principles because they go against human nature. I was struck by the realization that there is such a thing as low stress cattle handling, but many, if not most people have a difficult time understanding it because so much of it goes against human nature.

Today, low stress cattle handling is sort of a buzzword at least with the main stream agriculture publications, and the NCBA. Unfortunately nearly every article is nearly a copy of the others. They have little real information, and virtually nothing new. Watching some of the videos produced will convince a person that low stress cattle handling is all hype and will not work in real life situations.
This is especially true when people giving demonstrations talk about “training a cow to drive.” You do not train a cow to drive. Where the cow goes is totally dependent upon what you are doing and how you are doing it. 99% of the time a cow runs across the pen it is because you lost position or put too much pressure on the cow. What is seldom (if ever) mentioned is when you see that cow thinking about making that move, moving away from the cow rather then putting pressure on it will straighten the cow's direction.

When watching demonstrations on low stress cattle handling, the movements are so subtle that spectators may miss the slight drop of a shoulder or turn of the body that takes the pressure ff a cow and changes her mind. More often than not, the person demonstrating does not mention that to the audience, so that the finer points of what one needs to do, and when are lost to the observers. The same thing holds true for handling cattle horseback. At times, simply changing the angle of your horse to the cow will calm the cow down and get the results you want without speeding up. Unfortunately, most of us have been taught to keep our horses parallel to the cow at all times.

This may work well in arena events where you are judged (and given “courage points”) for chousing cattle around the arena, but it is the last thing one wants to do when trying to keep your cattle calm and things flowing. There are times when simply moving one end of your horse, one step, will calm the animal you are working and allow it to turn without losing momentum. In the branding pen, that one step may give you a clear shot to rope a calf without it bounding through the rest of the calves and stirring them up. 
For more information, visit

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why The Reluctance?

I have a conundrum which I would like solved. You can help by commenting on this post.
While it has been proven that low stress cattle handling techniques increases profitability in several ways:
  1. Results in heavier shipping weights through less shrinkage during handling.
  2. Saves money in labor as fewer people can handle more cattle.
  3. Saves money in antibiotics as there are fewer calves.
  4. Lower morbidity rates result in lower mortality rates increasing the number of animals shipped.

In spite of these (proven) benefits ranchers and feedlot managers do not seem to be interested investing a minimal amount of time and money for their crews to learn them. I would like comments on why you (or cattlemen you know) are reluctant to give low stress cattle handling a try, and what it would take to get you (or them) to give it a try.

I am also going to extend my low risk offer through the month of July. Pay my round trip gas to your ranch and I'll spend a week teaching you and your crew. If you think you have not learned anything at the end of the week, or that your cattle are not handling better I go home empty handed. If you decide your crew did learn and that your cattle are handling better, you owe me an additional $1,800. 

 If you would like to take me up on this offer, give me a call at
 I'm looking forward to your comments and suggestions. For more information my website

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Getting Feedlot Cowboys On The Low Stress Bandwagon

There is no doubt that the industry leaders are interested in having low stress cattle handling method being the industry norm rather than the exception. I am no sycophantic elocutionist, all I can do is call things like I see them. Unless there is a direct benefit to the average pen rider , cowboy or ranch hand, they are not going to see the benefit in changing how they work cattle. In order to get the rank and file pen riders and ranch hands wanting to excel in low stress cattle handling we need to do two things. First we need to show that low stress cattle handling is more efficient. Second we need to give them a reason to learn and practice it.
The best way to do this is through a series of competitions in realistic low stress cattle handling to be sponsored by BQA, with a sizable reward (as in cash and prizes) for the winners. This contest would entail riding pens just as if they were riding pens at work, only would be pulling cattle marked with paint balls. A model for the competition wold be;
  1. Twenty pens to be ridden by each contestant with fifty marked animals to be pulled.
  2. Each contestant starts with two hundred points.
  3. A point would be subtracted for each animal that breaks out of a walk.
  4. Two points would be subtracted for causing animals other than the one being pulled to move faster than a walk.
  5. Each contestant would have one marked animal wearing a heart monitor. The contestant raising the hear rate of this animal the least would have ten points added to their score and the second lowest raise of heart rate would receive five points added to their score.
  6. If a rider does not pull all of his marked cattle, they will have two points deducted from their score.
  7. Rider will also have two points deducted for every unmarked animal pulled.
  8. In case of a tie score, the fastest time wins.

While this would not be a spectator sport, it would give pen riders a reason to get interested in low stress cattle handling. If you were to check the death loss and medical costs in any feedlot, you will find that those numbers correlate directly to how cattle are being handled. The less stress being put on cattle, the lower the death loss and antibiotic costs will be. The more stress put on the cattle the higher those numbers will be. The last feedlot I worked at, I asked the hospital crew to run the numbers on all of the pen riders for a year so I could compare them. Between the person who cause the less stress, and the person who caused the least amount of stress, the cost difference was over $250,000. With that kind of losses going on, it seems as if a little prize money as incentive would be a cheap way to get more cowboys on the low stress band wagon.

To learn about my own intensive program for teaching low stress cattle handling in feedlots, visit my website.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is

Instruction in low stress cattle handling should be as easy as selling iced tea in Texas. However too many people assume that A) They already are using low stress methods; or B) The claims being made are not possible. It also does not help matters when people being sponsored as experts put out videos like the one below, which prove the point that low stress is too slow to be effective in a real life situation. This is not saying the people in the video don't know what they are doing, but that the way the video was edited will sure enough convince a pen rider or anyone working cattle for a living that low stress handling does not work because it is too slow.

 During the fall run,  feedlot cowboys may have to pull over a hundred animals, then take another two or three hundred from the hospital pens back to their home pens in a day. In the following video it takes over 8 minutes to pull one heifer, which comes out to over 800 minutes (or 13.3 hours) just pull that 100 sick animals a guy would be pulling. That would require a second shift of cowboys to take the cattle from the hospital pen back to their home pens. The example set in this video is, to me, and anyone working in the real world, totally unacceptable. Is there any wonder that so many producers and their employees think that they do not have time for low stress cattle handling?

This has prompted me to put my money where my mouth is.

During the months of May and June of 2012 I am running a special promotion.  Are you curious as to whether or not I can actually get your cattle to acting as a herd? Are you running a holistic grazing program and are curious to really find out if you can manage your cattle without spending time and money on un-needed fences? Now is your chance to find out without taking a big gamble. Pay me the estimated round trip cost for gas from Van Horn to your ranch, and I will work with you and your cattle for a week. If at the end of the week, your cattle are not easier to handle, and beginning to graze close together as a herd, you ow me nothing. If your cattle are easier to handle and are beginning to graze together as a herd, then you pay me $2000.

This program includes working with you (and your help) on your horses, as well as your cattle, and consulting on possible infrastructure changes to make your ranch more efficient. Call me to reserve a date!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Heat Detection Made Easy

Most of us are still calving, but breeding season is just around the corner. If you are running an artificial breeding program, or thinking of starting one, you need to know the best, and easiest way to pen your breeders. Many operations not only make more work out of heat detection than necessary, but also work against themselves and the cattle in doing so. This is evident with all of the stories about how wild cattle are to pen when it is time to breed.
The fact is, that when handled properly, at the proper time, the cattle will almost pen themselves. To understand this, we must first understand the mental and physiological state of cattle when they cycle.
Two to three days before a cow is actually in heat, they become agitated and are starting to think about breeding. They will be in the groups of hot cows, butting heads and riding the cows which are actually hot, as well as others which are close to being in heat. The cows which are actually hot only have breeding on their mind. For the eight to twelve hours they are actually in heat they seldom graze or drink, and ignore their calf in search of a bull. This is the time you need to be penning them, when they are hot and wanting to breed. If you drive or ride through the cattle and mark down the numbers of the cows in heat, then pen them when it is time to breed, you are working against yourself. At this point the cow is tired and interested in relieving that tight bag, eating, drinking, and resting. This makes them harder to find, and because they are tired, it also makes them harder to handle. Penning cattle when they are hot and looking for a bull, or other cattle in heat makes them both easy to find, and pen. The first thing you need to do is to place your breeding pen(s) in an area which is either visible to your cattle, or in an area they will naturally flow to. The pens need to have three sections. One to hold your cattle being bred. A second area to hold hot cows waiting to be bred, and a pen to bring hot cattle into that is large enough to sort off the ones not quite in standing heat.
When you start that group of hot cattle across the pasture they will have a tendency to run off, and of course we have the tendency to try and keep them from doing that. As long as they are moving in the general direction of the pen, don't try to hold them up. They will travel for awhile, then stop and start riding each other again. For this reason you don't want to even try keeping up with them. If you try to slow them down, they will interpret this as being chased and they won't stop. Keep pushing them and it won't be long before they will become irritated and split up. Let them keep riding a couple of minutes after you do catch up. Position yourself so that when you start them, they are headed in the general direction of the pen again. Most of the time they will take off and run to the next group of cattle and start sniffing around. There are many times that this is the stimulus a “silent heat” needs to become visible. Once you are sure there are no more hot cows in that group, start them towards the breeding pens.
When these cattle see the pens, with cattle in them they will make a beeline for the pens. Because of their one track mind at a this point, they will want to get into the pens to see if they can get what they are looking for. As long as you are patient, they will work their way around the pen and actually find their way in the gate. The whole key to making this work is having the patience to let the cattle move at their own pace and letting them go where you want rather than trying to force them. Basically, unless you do something to make them mad and quit thinking about being bred, they will want to go to the breeding pen. One other mistake that people make while penning cattle using this method is trying to get the calf to go with the cow. The cow is not the least bit interested in her calf at this point. Even if left in the pasture, she will not let the calf nurse as she is interested only in breeding and will not think about her tight bag or the calf until she is out of standing heat. As soon as she is let out of the breeding pen she will meet up with the calf at the last spot the calf nursed, or the calf will follow on its own and meet it's mother when she is let out of the breeding box. The only time you need to take the calf with you is if you are in a three cycle breeding season (which will probably happen only on a registered operation.) By the third cycle you won't be finding hot groups, but individual hot cows. At this point your hot cow will stand out because of the number of bull calves mobbing the cow. In this situation the hot cow just wants to get away from the calves. With no company in the pen she will be likely to jump out if her calf shows up. For that reason, you will want to pen her calf with her. Penning while the cattle are actually hot also works better while breeding in a feedlot situation as well. The hot cattle will come off feed earlier than the rest of the cattle and start bulling. At this point it is not only easier to spot them, you will be only working the hot group and the rest of the cattle will be out of your way. It is fairly simple to sort the heifers in standing heat from the bullers at the gate. As you work your way down the alley these hot heifers will actually act as bait to draw the hots in your other pens to the gate. If you follow this procedure and allow the cattle to work themselves you will not only pen cattle easier, you will have higher conception rates from the lack of stress on the cattle. You will also have less stress on yourself and your crew.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The myth of “breed type disposition”

Herefords are thought of as being gentle, while Brahma, Limousine, and Saler, cattle are thought of by most cattlemen in this country as being harder to handle because of their disposition. The fact that they can be harder to handle has more to do with the frequency and methods used handling them than their actual disposition. Now that half of you are ready to tar and feather me, then run me off the cyber range, I have a couple of simple questions for you to ponder.
Why is it that the above mentioned breeds which many of us consider to have bad attitudes, considered to be gentle breeds in their country of origin? If Hereford cattle are so inherently gentle, then why are there areas with a lot of high headed Herefords that streak off across the pasture with a knot in their tail at the sight of a person on horseback?
I started wondering about those two questions over forty years ago. Twenty years ago I had the unique opportunity to halter break the show calves for a big registered outfit. Part of their show string was several Red Angus embryo transplant calves which were full brother/sister. One would think that the genetically inherent gentle nature of their breeding. Three of the calves were out of recip cows which were raised on the ranch. These mothers had been handled half right all of their lives and were fairly gentle. These three broke to lead fast and enjoyed the brushing and grooming. The recip cow for calf number four was a Hereford purchased from a neighboring ranch which culled her because she was too wild. Despite having identical genetics, she was harder to halter break, kept kicking when a person groomed her and ran away with the herdsman several times at the show. Long story short, she had been trained by her mother to be wild and obnoxious.
On the other end of the spectrum, several years ago I was sent a bunch of smooth mouth Santa Gertrudis cows for the winter. We were to calve them out and ship the mothers to the packers at weaning time. These cows came off a ranch where they gather mainly with helicopters. When they do use cowboys the man to cow ratio is usually around 1 to 20. When they came off the truck, half of them were hunting and ready to run over a man on foot, and would challenge a man on horseback. After working on settling them down a couple of hours we turned them out in a small trap.
When I started to gather the trap a few days later, all the cattle ran to the back corner and wadded up. Thinking it would be better to go out a gate and move them off the fence from the outside, I headed away from the cattle and towards a gate. Before making it to the gate,there was the screeching sound of breaking wire and the cattle were out and running out and running.
After only seven months of being handled with low stress methods, three of us penned over 500 of these cows, sorted the calves off the cows and shipped them. The cattle manager of the ranch owing the cows was amazed as he had never seen the cattle penned that easily or worked that quietly.
The moral of these examples is that how cattle are handled (and the frequency they are handled) affects the disposition and behavior of cattle as much as genetics.After working with tens of thousands of cattle, and watching people work them, it is easy to understand how there can be so much confusion on low stress cattle handling and understanding of cattle behavior. Our knowledge is only the sum of our actual experience combined with what we have learned through educational experiences. Until we observe cattle acting as a herd and without stress, our observations of cattle behavior will not be accurate as our base opinions are based upon faulty information.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Doing Away With "Predator/Prey" Thinking

When we hear about new methods, especially when they claim to result in things which run counter intuitive to what we have experienced, we are suspicious. I have to admit that the first time I heard of a low stress cattle handling seminar I thought it was one of the dumbest things I ever heard of. Like most people I felt I'm doing as good a job as can be done and didn't need the “education.” Looking back, I feel that while my reaction was normal, I really wasn't looking at the larger picture. That changed when I was forced to attend a Bud Williams seminar.

What I learned in Bud's seminar was not what one would expect. I was already doing the things he was teaching, and in fact doing some things he was not teaching. I was astounded at how, no matter how he he explained things, people would have a difficult time understanding the most simple concepts. The final day of the seminar, rather than go to lunch with everyone else, I stayed back to talk with Bud. We discussed some of the things I was doing which worked for me, and why people seem to have such a hard time understanding how cattle work. That was in 1992.

Since then I have been reading every article I can just to see how others are trying to teach people how to handle cattle, and writing a few articles myself. Bud liked my views enough he put a link to my main website at the top of his links page. After spending the last twenty years studying how people are trying to teach reduced stress cattle handing I have come to two conclusions.

First, you cannot learn to work cattle by sitting in a classroom or watching someone else demonstrate. Cattle are living, reacting creatures. In order to learn how to work with them you need to learn how to read them. You can only do this with closely supervised work sessions, which work best if you can look at video to see where you made your mistakes, and where you did things correctly.

Secondly, we must quit looking at everything as a prey/predator relationship. I recently read an article by Temple Grandin describing what she called “passive stalking” and how that can force cattle to come together as a herd. While it is true, when predators travel up the outside of a herd, that the herd moves forward, it is totally false that this is a predator specific relationship. In fact this reaction happens among individuals within a herd. This reaction is also common in humans as well as grazing animals, and has more to do with dominance and body language than the predator/prey relationship.

Most of us observe cattle by merely looking for what health problems there may be. Since I was a small child I have always enjoyed just watching cattle for the sake of watching them. What I discovered as a small boy was that when one of the more dominant animals are walking through the herd (whether it is in a pen, or a pasture) will occasionally drop it's head a bit and change it's posture to a slightly aggressive mode while walking past some of the other animals. The reaction of the other animal would be to start up and walk past the more dominant animal. This reaction is not restricted to grazing animals. Humans have this same reaction as well, and it is easy to put to the test.

Next time you are in a crowded environment such as a mall or WalMart, you can try it for yourself. When you see someone coming in your direction, slightly increase your walking speed, twist your shoulders towards the person while shifting your eyes towards them (without actually turning your head). As you approach your “target” person they will actually speed up to get past you.

This concept is probably hard for most people to fathom because it runs counter nearly everything we have been taught in how to work cattle. The fact is that most of what we have been taught is exactly the opposite of what our cattle need to be relaxed and at maximum production. The proof is revealed in one simple question; If cattle are a herd animal, then why do they spread out across the pasture?

By changing our handling methods to ones which cause less stress in our cattle, we are not training them to act as a herd, but removing the stress and allowing them to enjoy herd behavior as nature intended. For more information, visit my natural cattle handling website.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Exports Hurting US Economy

Cattle publications (and too often formal educators) try to convince us that the cattle and beef industries are one and the same. They are not. One difference is in the import export market. While some registered cattle producers may market a few animals to foreign markets, it is not something which the average producer does. On the other hand, every producer of boxed beef is after the premium they can receive from exports to other countries.
While exports can be a good thing for the economy, what is often forgotten is that the economy begins at home. There is a point at which exports benefit a few while making the economy bad for the rest of the economy. This is currently demonstrated by hay exports.
Much of the country has been ravaged by both drought and wildfire. Hay prices are through the roof. Many are paying $300 a ton per hay with it being forecast in some areas to top the $400 mark by the first of February. On the surface this would seem to be a simple matter of supply and demand. Between the drought and fires the demand for hay is higher which would automatically drive up the cost of hay. However there is another factor affecting our hay supply which is driving the cost up. A record amount of hay is being exported to China, partially because it is actually cheaper to ship it to China than to points within the United States.
While economists view this as a good thing for the trade imbalance, it is detrimental to our overall economy. This is driving up the cost of both beef and dairy products for consumers who are suffering enough in this down economy. While it would seem logical that trade agreements and export laws would take our own economy into consideration before allowing either exports or imports. Unfortunately economists too often consider the balance sheets between our country and others without looking at the effects upon our own general population.
That is the difference between the cattle and beef industries. The beef industry can benefit by premiums, either in actual price, or lower shipping costs. The relationship between the cattle industry and beef industry is similar to that between mining companies which supply iron ore and steel manufacturers. As cattle producers we are providing the “beef ore” for packing companies to turn into beef.
We can not depend on them for our individual economic situation to be better, nor can we expect the government to protect our interests. As such, our only formula for success is to keep our outputs low enough that our inputs cover the costs with enough left over for a livable profit. We need to manage our forage so that we are planning ahead for the times of drought an/or low prices. We cannot avoid all outputs, but we need to manage them so that what outputs we do have benefit our output to input ratios. This includes everything from handling our cattle in a way which reduces shrink, to making our infrastructure less costly to maintain to how we manage our household purchases.
This last has been made a bit more simple by the internet. We can now purchase everything from vaccines and tools, to clothing, and even some foods and have it delivered without the expense of driving a couple of hundred miles to town. One such opportunity is provided by Country Outfitters. A few weeks back I was approached by them to do a product review in exchange for whatever I wanted to order. I browsed through their products and was surprised at their variety and prices. As it is winter, I chose the Carthart® arctic lined coat. It had the quality you know is going to be there, including a long lasting brass zipper rather than the cheap plastic ones used by other manufacturers. The prices are comparable to what you find at stores in town, yet you don't have to make the trip. With calving season upon us Country Outfitters an be your own on ranch store if you find yourself in need of extra winter wear or a new hat to wear to the stock show.