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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Cattle Handling Part 2 Use Good Cow Sense When Handling Cattle

Cattle Handling Part 2: Use Good Cow Sense When Handling Cattle

by Heather Smith Thomas

Understanding the way cattle think and why they react to you the way they do can enable you handle them in ways that will help rather than hinder your purposes. If you can “think like a cow” you can more readily predict what cattle will do in various situations and be able to handle them with fewer problems.

TRAINING CATTLE

Cattle are very intelligent, and are just as “trainable” as horses. Like horses, they “reason” differently than humans. Their primary concerns are basic functions like eating, reproduction and protecting their calves. They are also curious, however, relying not just on instinct but also on their ability to figure things out. They have excellent memories and adaptability, which makes them very trainable. If you handle them with patience, understanding and consistency, they learn to trust you. They know what to expect from you and what is expected of them. They are creatures of habit, and if you help them build acceptable patterns of behavior they can be very easy to handle.

You must understand their basic nature, however, and expect the right things. If you know how a cow thinks, you can work with her type of reasoning instead of against it. Don’t get mad at her if she doesn’t react to something the way you would or see things the way you do. Her instincts and thought processes equip her to find the best grazing areas, to be alert for predators (especially when her calf is young, to defend him from danger), to remember the location of a water hole or a mountain trail she’s used only one other time in her life, or the bush that had the hornet’s nest she bumped into 3 years ago.

She may not understand, however, that she must travel along a fence and through a gate to get to some hay you put out for her in the next field — until she’s done it and remembers where the gate is. She can see the hay right through the fence and wants to go straight to it, and is frustrated because she can’t. She can learn about gates, however. A calf may take longer to figure it out and may keep trying to go through the fence instead of taking the long way around, but an older cow knows the way.

Before domestication (before being managed and protected by humans), cattle were preyed upon by wolves and other large predators. They relied on their senses of smell, hearing and sight to survive, responding to danger by running or fighting. They instinctively fear anything strange or new until they find out it won’t hurt them. They are alert to unusual smells, sights or sounds — ready to run (or to stand their ground and fight, if cornered, or protect a calf).

They may balk at a shadow or something strange along the trail or hanging on the fence, or spook at a sudden movement. Anything out of their ordinary experience can startle them. If you are bringing cattle to the corral, a stranger standing by the gate may alarm them or make them too suspicious to come through the gate. Be aware of the things that might scare them, and try to make moving and handling them a good experience rather than scary. Don’t leave your jacket hanging on the corral fence.

If they balk when you’re moving them, try to see what they are seeing. It might be a piece of paper blowing in the wind, a dog on the other side of the corral, or a wheelbarrow left beside the driveway. Calm cattle may stop and look at the things they are afraid of, whereas wild ones will get excited and run away (maybe even over the top of you).

Some cattle are smarter than others and figure things out more quickly when you change the feeding program or the route from pasture to barn, or the location of a gate. Some are flighty — more nervous, insecure or wild — while others are mellow and easy-going, more trusting and less easily spooked or alarmed. Manageable personality (or wild, untrusting nature) is a combination of inherited intelligence and emotional tendencies (the sire or dam may have been wild and spooky), along with past experiences that affect that individual cow’s attitude. A nervous, high strung individual can become less wild (gentling down enough to be tolerated in your herd) if she is smart enough to be trainable, to learn you are not a threat to her under ordinary circumstances.

Cow personality and manageability (disposition) are always a combination of genetics (inherited intelligence and emotional tendencies — hot headed or calm) and experience. How she has been handled from calfhood, with good experiences or bad ones, will make a lot of difference in her attitude toward people (or dogs) or management situations like going into a chute for vaccinations.

You can generally tell what kind of stockman a person is, by his cattle — whether they are wild and hard to handle, or easygoing. A good stockman who handles cattle with patience and calm manner will have gentler, calmer cattle than a person who always gets them excited when working with them. Cattle never forget a bad experience. They will balk at getting into the same situation again, refusing to go into the corral (or the barn) or chute.

USE HERD SOCIAL ORDER TO YOUR ADVANTAGE: YOU BE THE BOSS COW

Cattle are very social animals, depending on the herd for security. They are happiest when they are with other cattle (even if the other herd members boss them around). In the wild, before domestication, they depended on the herd for survival; there was safety in numbers (less chance of being singled out by a predator, and more horns to protect the babies from wolves).

Cattle were easily domesticated and easy to train, mainly because of their social nature (staying together in groups) and their acceptance of a pecking order in the herd. They readily submit to a higher ranking herd member and can transfer this acceptance and submission to a human. If cattle know and respect you, they will accept you as “boss cow”. They will submit to your domination — going into the corral when you insist, for instance, rather than questioning your authority and running off.

The best (and easiest) way to handle cattle is to have them accustomed to you, so they can calm trust you rather than being afraid (you are not a threat to them, as a predator would be) yet submissive to your bidding. You don’t want them to be such pets that they think they can dominate you. Cattle always think in terms of dominance and submission. Every herd member is either above or below them in the hierarchy, bossing them or being bossed by them. You must be a “boss” in the cow’s mind — not feared, but totally respected.

Never let an animal lose respect for you. Never make a pet of a young bull. A gentle animal that is not afraid of you thinks of you as one of the herd, so you must be the dominant one. It is bovine nature to try to dominate you and push you around. Cattle are always trying each other out to see who is higher in the pecking order. Don’t let your favorite cow or calf become pushy or it may become aggressive. Stockmen have been killed by pet cattle, especially bulls. It’s nice to have a friendly relationship with cattle, but they must still know you are the boss.

Pecking order is part of life for herd animals. The bossiest cow is at the top and she got there by being more aggressive, winning all the fights when other cows tried to challenge her. As top cow, she gets first choice of the best grass or hay, or supplement, and water. Others must use a different pile of hay or wait their turn at the supplement tub or water tank until she’s finished. Other herd members fight to determine who is next in line (who bosses whom). The most serious fights are among lower ranking individuals trying to defend their social position or move up to a better one.

The top cow rarely has to defend her title; everyone else has learned to respect her. She merely has to shake her head at them and they move out of her way, or let her have the hay or water. You can use this same sort of “mind control” (or psychological intimidation) to advantage when handling cattle that know and respect you. If they accept you as “top cow” it makes your job easier because they don’t challenge your authority and are willing to accept what you want them to do.

You don’t need to be able to outrun them to herd them, nor whip or beat on them to make them go somewhere they’d rather not go. If you’ve ever seen a bull herding his cows, you understand even more fully how the dominant/submissive relationship works. He can gather them up, or keep them from going somewhere he doesn’t want them to go, just by his threatening actions. The herd could easily scatter and outrun him, but he already has them “trained” to obey. If your cattle accept you as the dominant herd member, you can handle them easily on foot, and they won’t run off.

Many tribal people in other countries who handle their cattle on foot (taking the herd to and from the villages to graze) send their children out to herd the cattle. These cattle are the most highly domesticated–and totally manageable–because they have been trained from calfhood to accept the human as the dominant herd member.

Spotlight On: Book Reviews

McCormick Deering/International No 7 vs no 9

McCormick Deering/International: No. 7 versus No. 9

McCormick Deering/International’s first enclosed gear model was the No. 7, an extremely successful and highly popular mower of excellent design.

How To Dry Up A Doe Goat

How To Dry Up A Doe Goat

You are probably thinking why would I want to dry up a doe? If the plan is to rebreed the doe, then she will need time to rebuild her stamina. Milk production takes energy. Kid production takes energy, too. If the plan is to have a fresh goat in March, then toward the end of October start to dry her up. The first thing to do is cut back on her grain. Grain fuels milk production.

Dont Eat the Seed Corn

Don’t Eat the Seed Corn: Strategies & Prospects for Human Survival

by:
from issue:

Gary Paul Nabhan’s book “WHERE OUR FOOD COMES FROM: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine” (Island Press, 2009) is a weighty tome, freighted with implications. But as befits its subject it is also portable and travels well, a deft exploration of two trips around the world, that of the author following in the footsteps of a long-gone mentor he never met, the Russian pioneer botanist and geneticist Nikolay Vavilov (1887-1943).

Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows

Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows

From humor-filled stories of a life of farming to incisive examinations of food safety, from magical moments of the re-enchantment of agriculture to the benches we would use for the sharpening of our tools, Farmer Pirates & Dancing Cows offers a full meal of thought and reflection.

Stories of Ranch Life

Stories of Ranch Life

Throughout Thomas’ stories the reader will feel the importance of the human relationship to the land and animals, but also the value of family. “Lynn and I chose ranching because we wanted to raise cattle and horses, but soon discovered that a ranch is also the best place to raise children. Some of our kid’s first memories are of feeding cows. They went along with us as babies because mama had to drive the jeep.”

Why Farm

Farming For Art’s Sake: Farming As An Artform

Farming as a vocation is more of a way of living than of making a living. Farming at its best is an Art, at its worst it is an industry. Farming can be an Art because it allows at every juncture for the farmer to create form from his or her vision.

Barbed Wire History and Varieties

Book Excerpt: The invention of barb wire was the most important event in the solution of the fence problem. The question of providing fencing material had become serious, even in the timbered portions of the country, while the great prairie region was almost wholly without resource, save the slow and expensive process of hedging. At this juncture came barb wire, which was at once seen to make a cheap, effective, and durable fence, rapidly built and easily moved.

Timing the Bounce

Timing the Bounce: Resilient Agriculture Meets Climate Change

by:
from issue:

In her new book, Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate, Laura Lengnick assumes a dispassionate, businesslike tone and sets about exploring the farming strategies of twenty-seven award-winning farmers in six regions of the continental United States. Her approach gets well past denial and business-as-usual, to see what can be done, which strategies are being tried, and how well they are working.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 4

Assuming that you’ve found a farm you want to buy, next you’ll need to determine if you can buy it. If you have sold your property, and/or saved your money, and have the means to buy the farm you are sitting pretty. If you do not have the full price of a considered farm, in cash or any other form, you will likely have to look for financing.

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

How to Store Vegetables

Potatoes may be safely stored in bits on a well drained spot. Spread a layer of straw for the floor. Pile the potatoes in a long, rather than a round pile. Cover the pile with straw or hay a foot deep.

The Horsedrawn Mower Book

Removing the Wheels from a McCormick Deering No. 9 Mower

How to remove the wheels of a No. 9 McCormick Deering Mower, an excerpt from The Horsedrawn Mower Book.

Plowing with the Single Horse

Plowing with the Single Horse

All other aspects being equal, the primary difference in plowing, comfortably, with a single horse is that the animal walks on unplowed ground immediately adjacent to the previous furrow, rather than in the furrow. This will cause the point of draft at the shoulder to be somewhat higher and will dictate hitching longer and/or higher than with the animal walking down 5 to 8 inches lower in the furrow.

How To Prune a Formal Hedge

How To Prune A Formal Hedge

This guide to hedge-trimming comes from The Pruning Answer Book by Lewis Hill and Penelope O’Sullivan. Q: What’s the correct way to shear a formal hedge? A: The amount of shearing depends upon the specific plant and whether the hedge is formal or informal. You’ll need to trim an informal hedge only once or twice a year, although more vigorous growers, such as privet and ninebark, may need additional clippings.

Wheel Hoe

The Wheel Hoe: A Tool For Shallow Tillage

When we bought this little farm I soon realized I needed a wheel hoe. The size of the horse and tractor dictated space wasting wide rows in crop production and, to some degree, so does my two wheeled tractor.

Work Horse Handbook

The Work Horse Handbook

The decision to depend on horses or mules in harness for farm work, logging, or highway work is an important one and should not be taken lightly. Aside from romantic notions of involvement in a picturesque scene, most of the considerations are serious.

Chicken Guano: Top-Notch Fertilizer

Whoever thought I’d be singing the praises of chicken poop? I am, and I’m not the only one. Chickens are walking nitrogen-rich manure bins.

How To Prune

From Dusty Shelves: Pruning Guide from 1917

A Quiet Stand

A Quiet Stand

Burnout is common to idealists who invest deeply in their dreams. It is easy to overreach, and promise more than you have to give. Then too there is that tempered hidden anchor called hope, the mountain climber’s friend driven into cracks to belay and secure him as he goes, which still may fail first or last. So following the story that underlies these essays it is not hard to see how, as Kingsnorth says, finding himself increasingly mired in endless meetings with corporate spokesmen paid to resist him, enough futile effort might lead to despair.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT