Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Stress, Suicide, and Cattle Behavior

During a conversation with a friend last week, he received a phone call that changed the direction of our conversation. His friend that called was trying to figure out how to console his teen aged daughters who had a friend commit suicide. The girl had been outgoing and popular with a lot of friends. Outwardly she was happy and had everything to live for. Her friends and family had no idea that inside, she was a tortured soul.

We all miss signs that a family member, friend or acquaintence is under stress or depressed. Sometimes it can go on for years, especially if the person fails to acknowledge they have a problem. We begin to to accept the personality changes of people suffering from depression or stress as simply "that is the way they are" without questioning the changes in their behavior. Often we end friendships or marriages without realizing those people were suffereing from stress or depression, or even realizing the stress we are under because of their stress induced behavior.

So how does all of this relate to cattle behavior? It is basically one and the same. We look at cattle behavior as "that is just the way cattle are." We search pastures looking for all of the scattered out cattle without questioning why these supposedly herd animals do anything except graze together as a herd. We take it for granted that cattle don't eat weeds without questioning why they don't eat these plants which may have a higher nutritional value than grass. As long as the cattle are eating and not bouncing off the fences we consider them to be acting "normal" and not under stress. That is like observing prisoners of a concentration camp going through their routine and accepting it as normal, stress free behavior because they aren't rebelling...that the barbed wire and machine gun toting guards somehow alleviate stress and depression.

Wrapping our minds around the fact our cattle are stressed, and breaking stockmanship habits is the hardest part of releiving stress from our cattle. Once we accomplish that the changes in their behavior is nothing less than astounding. No longer do they repeatedly back graze the "sweet spots." They graze together as a herd, sometimes tighter than they do when being controlled by "recreational fencing," and begin to eat the weeds we control by spraying because the "cattle won't eat them."

The day before my friend's phone conversation, we worked with his cattle. He was close to having them working as a herd, and needed a few pointers. That one day resulted in his cattle not only coming together as a herd and grazing as a big swather, they were mowing down different varieties of weeds, and bedding down in hemp, all of which they were previously avoiding. In doing so they were opening up these areas so grass could grow, and trampling areas of hard packed ground so rain could penetrate the surface instead of running off. In short, by relieveing the stress he couldn't see, it changed the beavior of his cattle in ways he could barely imagine.
For more information on changing the behavior of your cattle for the better, visit

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