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.