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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: Equipment & Facilities

The New Idea No5 Transplanter

The NEW IDEA No. 5 Transplanter

from issue:

The planting distances or intervals at which the water is released, is controlled by the gear and pinions under the shield near the driver’s right foot. The large, flat-faced gear should be so turned that the arrow on the back points straight up. The numbers on either side of the arrow will then be so arranged that the number 1, 2, 3 and 4 will be on the side of the water trip lever and will denote the various positions in which the Driven Pinion meshes with the gear.

New Idea Manure Spreaders

New Idea Manure Spreaders

from issue:

There is no fixed method of loading. The best results are usually obtained by starting to load at the front end, especially in long straw manure. To get good results do not pile any manure into the cylinders. The height of the load depends upon the condition of the manure, the condition and nature of the field. Do not put on extra side boards. Be satisfied with the capacity of the machine and do not abuse it. Overloading will be the cause of loss of time sooner or later.

Choosing a Gas or Coal Forge for the Small Farm Shop

Choosing a Gas or Coal Forge for the Small Farm Shop

by:
from issue:

After you’ve built a small farm blacksmith shop, one of the first decisions that you’ll need to make is which type of fuel you’ll be using. Most people choose either gas (propane) or coal, however, wood fired forges are also an option. All three fuel types have pros and cons. The final decision will likely be based on the type of forging that you plan to do and the local availability of the fuel.

Fencing for Horses

Fencing for Horses

by:
from issue:

The first wire we tried was a small gauge steel wire which was not terribly satisfactory with horses. Half the time they wouldn’t see it and would charge on through. And the other half of the time they would remember getting shocked by something they hadn’t seen there and would refuse to come through when we were standing there with gate wide open. We realized that visibility was an important consideration when working with horses.

McCormick-Deering Tractor Disc Harrow No. 10-A

McCormick-Deering Tractor Disc Harrow No. 10-A

Small to mid-sized disc-harrows are a most useful tillage implement. Some farmers consider them indispensable. Discs such as the McD 10-A may be used with either tractors or big hitches of work horses. This tool will cut both plowed and unplowed ground. Ahead of the moldboard plow, the disc harrow is a valuable tool to cut up and free tough sod. When employed in tandem with spring tooth harrows, a great deal of work can be accomplished in much less time.

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.

Timber Wagon

Timber Wagon: The ÖSTERBY SMEDJA SV5 Forwarder

New equipment for draft horse use in silviculture (growing trees) is commercialized in Sweden at present by five companies, mainly specialized in forwarders and logging arches. This equipment is primarily adapted to the needs of forest enterprises in Scandinavia. Thus the forwarders are designed for short and small wood, for loading via hydraulic crane or an electric winch, or for manual loading without tools. This equipment is also adapted to the local topographical conditions. The rocky forests require strong off-road capabilities.

Bobsled Building Plans

Bobsled Building Plans

Here are two, old-style, heavy-duty, bobsled building plans featuring the sort of sleds you might have found in New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada. (In fact you might get lucky and find them still.) These are designed to haul cord wood on the sled frame.

Planet Jr Two Horse Equipment

Planet Jr. Two-Horse Equipment

from issue:

This information on Planet Jr. two horse equipment is from an old booklet which had been shared with us by Dave McCoy, a horse-logger from our parts: “Think of the saving made in cultivating perfectly two rows of potatoes, beans, corn or any crop planted in rows not over 44 inches apart, at a single passage. This means double work at a single cost, for the arrangement of the fourteen teeth is such that all the ground is well tilled and no open furrows are left next to the row, while one man attends easily to the work, with one team.”

Sleds

Sleds

by:
from issue:

The remainder of this section on Agricultural Implements is about homemade equipment for use with draft animals. These implements are all proven and serviceable. They are easily worked by a single animal weighing 1,000 pounds, and probably a good deal less. Sleds rate high on our homestead. They can be pulled over rough terrain. They do well traversing slopes. Being low to the ground, they are very easy to load up.

John Deere Side Delivery Rake No 594

John Deere Side Delivery Rake No. 594

from issue:

When starting a new side rake, turn the reel by hand to be sure it revolves freely and the teeth do not strike the stripper bars. Then throw the rake in gear and turn the wheel by hand to see that the tooth bars and gears run free. Breakage of parts, which causes serious delay and additional expense, can be avoided by taking these precautions before entering the field.

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

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.

Haying With Horses

Haying With Horses

If the reader is considering the construction of a barn we encourage you to give more than passing thought to allowing the structure of the gable to be open enough to accommodate the hanging of a trolley track. It is difficult or impossible to retrofit a truss-built barn, which may have many supports crisscrossing the inside gable, to receive hay jags. At least allowing for the option in a new construction design will leave the option for loose hay systems in the future.

Littlefield Notes: A Slower Pace

LittleField Notes: A Slower Pace

by:
from issue:

I will probably never get a chance to sit at the throttle of a steam engine heading up some winding mountain grade and feel the romance of the rails as the lonesome sound of a steam whistle echoes off canyon walls. Nor will I sit and watch out over the bowsprit of a schooner rounding Cape Horn as the mighty wind and waves test men’s mettle and fill their spirits with the allure of the sea. It is within my reach however to draw a living from the earth using that third glorious form of transport – the horse.

John Deere Portable Bridge-Trussed Grain Elevator

John Deere Portable Bridge-Trussed Grain Elevator

from issue:

When bolting the sections of elevator together be sure the upper trough ends overlap the upper trough ahead, and each lower trough is underneath the trough ahead, so the chains will slide smoothly. Bolt the short tie plates to the underside of troughs at the embossed holes in the middle of trough. When bolting on the head section, have the end of scroll sheet underneath the upper trough section. The lower cross plate in the head section must bolt on top of the return trough.

Homemade Beet Grinder

Homemade Beet Grinder

by:
from issue:

This is my small beet grinder I built about 6 years ago. It has done nearly daily duty for that time. The beet fodder is added to my goat and rabbit rations which are largely homemade. Adding the pulp to the grain rations has aided me in having goat milk throughout the winter months. My beets are the Colossal Red Mangels. Many grow up to 2 feet long. I cut off enough for a day’s feed and grind it up each morning. Beets oxidize like cut apples. Fresh is best!

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 2

Hay Making with a Single Horse Part 2

by:
from issue:

From reading the Small Farmers Journal, I knew that some people are equally happy with either model, but because McCormick Deering had gone to the trouble of developing the No. 9, it suggests they could see that there were improvements to be made on the No. 7. Even if the improvement was small, with a single horse any improvement was likely to increase my chance of success.

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