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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: Crops & Soil

Syrup From Oregons Big-Leaf Maple

Syrup From Oregon’s Big Leaf Maple

by:
from issue:

There is a great potential in establishment of a seasonal “sugarbush” industry for small farmers of the northwestern states, particularly western Oregon and Washington. Five syrup producing species of maples are found mainly east of the Rocky Mountains. The Box Elder and the Big-leaf Maple are the only syrup producing maples of the Pacific Northwest. Properly made syrup from these two western maples is indistinguishable from the syrup of maples of the midwestern and northeastern states.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

by:
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Raised beds may not be right for everyone, and our way is not the only way. I have seen raised beds made from rows of 5’ diameter kiddy pools, and heard of a fellow who collected junk refrigerators from the dump and lined them up on their backs into a rainbow of colored enameled steel raised beds. Even rows of five-gallon pails filled with plants count as raised beds in my estimation. Do it any way you care to, but do it if it’s right for you.

Henpecked Compost and U-Mix Potting Soil

We have hesitated to go public with our potting mix, not because the formula is top secret, but because our greenhouse experience is limited in years and scale. Nevertheless, we would like to offer what we have learned in hopes of showing that something as seemingly insignificant as putting together a potting mix can be integrated into a systems approach to farming.

Cultivating Questions

Cultivating Questions: Concerning the Bioextensive Market Garden

One of our goals when we first started farming here was to develop the farm as a self-contained nutrient system. Unlike the almost complete recycling of nutrients which can take place on a livestock operation, we are always amazed – even a little disturbed – to see how many tons of fertility and organic matter leave the market garden each year with so little returned to the good earth.

Ginseng Culture

Ginseng Culture

U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmer’s Bulletin No. 1184 Issued 1921, Revised 1941 — The evident preference of the Chinese for the wild root and the unsatisfactory state of the general market for cultivated ginseng have caused grave doubts as to the future prospects of the industry. These doubts will probably be realized unless growers should strive for quality of product and not for quantity of production, as has been the all too common practice in the past.

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

Evolution of a Permanent Bed System

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After three or four years we could see that the nature of our farming practices would continue to have detrimental effects on our soils. We were looking for a new approach, a routine that would be sustainable, rather than a rescue treatment for an ongoing problem. We decided to convert our fields to permanent planting beds with grassy strips in between where all tractor, foot and irrigation pipe traffic would be concentrated.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

Rice as a New Staple Crop for Very Cold Climates

by: ,
from issue:

If you were visiting Earth from some other planet and had to describe its inhabitants upon your return, you might say that the average person eats rice, and grows it as well, usually on a small scale. You’d be accurately describing the habits of over a quarter of the world’s population. Rice has a special story with an exciting chapter now unfolding in the northeast USA among a small but growing group of farmers and growers.

Marketable Cover Crops

Marketable Cover Crops

by:
from issue:

Our cover crops have to provide the benefits of smothering weeds, improving soil structure, and replenishing organic matter. They also have to produce some income. For these purposes, we use turnips, mustard and lettuce within our plant successions. I broadcast these seeds thickly on areas where cover crops are necessary and let them do their work.

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting Part 3

Propagation by Means of Budding and Grafting Part 3

by:
from issue:

Grafting is the operation of inserting a cion (or scion) — or a twig comprising one or more buds — into the stock, usually into an incision in the wood. It is variously divided or classified, but chiefly with reference to the position on the plant, and to the method in which the cion and stock are joined. In reference to position, there are four general classes: 1. Root-grafting, 2. Crown-grafting, 3. Stem-grafting, and 4. Top-grafting.

Suggestions to Apple Pickers

Suggestions to Apple Pickers

by:
from issue:

Picking apples is a specialized operation for which there is a special technique. Inexperienced pickers do not have this technique but can acquire it. How well they do so and how quickly they become smooth pickers depends largely upon how painstakingly the orchardist and foreman teach them in the beginning. To fail here may mean to fail completely.

Fjordworks Horse Powered Potatoes Part 2

Fjordworks: Horse Powered Potatoes Part Two

These types of team implements for digging potatoes were the first big innovation in horse powered potato harvesting in the mid-19th century. Prior to the horse drawn digger the limitation on how many potatoes a farmer could plant was how many the farm crew could dig by hand. The basic design of these early diggers works so well that new models of this type of digger are once again being manufactured by contemporary horse drawn equipment suppliers.

Lost Apples

Lost Apples

The mindboggling agricultural plant and animal diversity, at the beginning of the twentieth century, should have been a treasure trove which mankind worked tirelessy to maintain. Such has not been the case. Alas, much has been lost, perhaps forever. Here are images and information on a handful of apple varieties from a valuable hundred year old text in our library.

Onion Culture

Onion Culture

The essential requirements of a soil upon which to grow onions profitably are a high state of fertility, good mechanical condition, properties – that is, if it contains sufficient sand and humus to be easily worked, is retentive of moisture and fertilizers, and is capable of drainage – all other requirements can be met.

On-Farm Meat Processing

The demand for fresh, local meat products – with no taint of industrial process – is absolutely staggering.

Farm Manure

Farm Manure

Naturally there is great variation in manure according to the animals it is made by, the feeding and bedding material, and the manner in which it is kept. Different analyses naturally shows different results and the tables here given serve only as a guide or index to the various kinds. The manure heap, by the way, is no place for old tin cans, bottles, glass, and other similar waste material.

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