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Calm & Collected

Here's how one person can easily and calmly collect and move cattle on pasture.

Ten years ago I attended a demonstration by Bud Williams, a cattle handling specialist from Canada. Bud gathered a group of feeder calves from a large pasture and calmly walked them slowly through a gate located in the middle of a fence. It seemed so easy.

Since this demonstration I've talked to many ranchers who have attended Bud Williams' seminars. Most of them weren't able to duplicate the method's results and scattered their cattle instead of moving them calmly. It's always been obvious that Bud's method works, since I witnessed it firsthand. But I wasn't sure how it worked ... until now.

Dissecting The Process My graduate student Jennifer Lanier and I recently attended one of Bud's seminars. He showed hours of video and discussed his patterns of movement behind the cattle. Together, we figured out how to diagram the patterns and devised simple step-by-step directions.

To test our directions, I asked my assistant Mark Deesing to try them. Mark's first attempts were a total failure. Bud's methods wouldn't work on tame cattle at the Colorado State University farm. These cattle were so tame they wouldn't get up until Mark nudged them with his foot. Cattle this tame are easier to move by leading them.

We then visited the Nature Conservancy Ranch in Hayden, CO, and attempted to move 100 cow-calf pairs between two pastures. Mark's first attempt resulted in cattle scattered all over the pasture. I observed that Mark was walking the zig-zag pattern correctly, but he was pressing on the cattle too hard which made them scatter. I instructed Mark to back off, proceed more slowly and try to bunch the cattle first. It worked like magic.

Within minutes the cattle came out of the trees and the herd bunched together. We couldn't believe it. During eight hours of seminars, Bud had failed to tell us that the cattle must be loosely bunched before any attempt is made to move them. This was the missing piece of the puzzle.

After taking the time to loosely bunch the cattle, it was easy. Ranch manager George Blakeslee and his wife Betsy tried it the next time they moved cattle and it worked for them, too.

Based On Predator Behavior This method works on the principle that a person slowly walking back and forth imitates the movements of a stalking predator. This triggers an instinctual behavior pattern that causes cattle to bunch. The handler moves at a normal walking speed (as a stalking predator would) without making noise by whistling, yelling or whip cracking. Handler movements must be steady and deliberate with no sudden jerky movements or arm waving.

These methods will not work if the cattle start running. They will only work on animals that are slightly anxious and not fearful to the point of flight.

If animals become excited in your first attempt and start running, they must be allowed to calm down for at least 30 minutes before the next attempt. There may also be difficulties if one or more of the lead animals has a blind eye. The leaders may not see the handler's movements.

Three Basic Steps

There are three basic steps that make this technique work:

1. Gathering And Loose Bunching - This is the most critical step. The majority of the herd must be loosely bunched before any attempt is made to move them. Depending on herd size, wildness of the cattle and the terrain, it will usually take 5-20 minutes to persuade the herd to form a loose bunch. This is done by applying light pressure on the edge of the collective flight zone to induce the animals to move into a loose bunch.

The handler should locate the majority of the herd and start making a series of wide back-and-forth movements on the edge of the herd. You should move in the pattern of a giant windshield wiper (Figure 1).

The handler can induce the rear animals to begin to move by giving them a "predatory" stare. This simulates the initial stalking behavior of a predator sizing up the herd.

The handler should continuously move back and forth. If you stop and linger too long in one animal's blind spot it may turn back and look at you. The cattle will also turn and look at you if you are too far back and outside the flight zone. If the cattle start to run, back up to decrease pressure on the flight zone.

On open pastures, it's important to take your time. Six to twenty wide back-and-forth movements of 300 yards or more may be required to move the herd into a loose bunch.

Handler movement patterns on large pastures and other large spaces are much larger than handler movement patterns in confined spaces such as alleys or feedlot pens. Animals spread over large areas require larger movements than animals gathered in smaller spaces.

The handler should continuously walk back and forth and move enough to the side that the lead animals can see him. (Figure 1). Cattle that are off to one side of the pasture will be attracted as the herd moves into a loose bunch. Animals hidden in the brush or timber will be drawn out because they seek the safety of the herd. Don't chase stragglers.

It's important that the handler resist the urge to press the cattle into loose bunching too quickly. Remember, in this step the handler is attempting to cause slight anxiety in the animals by simulating predator "stalking" behavior. Take your time to allow the animals to bunch together and to allow calves to find their mothers. Even though the method might cause slight anxiety, it's low stress compared to old-fashioned methods where animals are chased.

2. Initiating Movement - When the majority of the herd has come together into a loose bunch, increase pressure on the collective flight zone to initiate movement in the desired direction (Figure 2, page 85). The handler continues the back-and-forth movements but presses closer to the herd to induce movement. This will cause the herd to move forward and begin to string out.

Handlers need to differentiate between "good" and "bad" movement of cattle. In good movement, they are all headed in the same direction and can be easily and smoothly driven in the desired direction. They will resemble a group of animals walking to water or making some other voluntary group movement on a large pasture.

In a large group of animals, good movement starts with one animal and additional animals gradually follow. Good movement entices the other animals to follow, while bad movements prevent other animals from following in an orderly manner.

There are two types of bad movement:

* Running, cutting back, and other panic-induced movements.

* Animals stop moving as an orderly stream in the desired direction.

The first signs of bad movement are stopping, wavering or starting to turn away from the desired direction to look at the handler. The extreme form of bad movement is circular movement.

Good movement can be disrupted when the animals attempt to locate the handler's position. This is a natural anti-predator behavior. They want to know where the predatoris and what its intentions are. Animals will turn and look at a person or a dog that is either in their blind spot behind their rear or is outside their flight zone. Handlers should not remain more than momentarily in any individual animal's blind spot. Walking through the blind spot will not cause a problem.

To move the group, apply pressure to both the collective flight zone and individual animals within the moving herd. When an animal or a group responds to the handler's pressure on the flight zone, the handlers must immediately stop forward movement or change direction of movement to relieve pressure. This rewards the animal for moving in the desired direction and the animal is more likely to continue that movement.

When the desired movement slows down, the handler must apply pressure again. The principle is to alternately apply and remove pressure on the animal's flight zone.

Every time you work your animals you are training them. You can train them to be easy to handle and have good movement or you can train them to be difficult and have bad movement.

3. Controlling Movement Direction - Animals must all be walking in the same direction before any attempt is made to change the direction of movement. When good movement is initiated, the handler can control the direction of movement by moving to the left to make the cattle turn right and vice versa (Figure 3).

A basic principle is to alternately penetrate and withdraw from the flight zone. When cattle are moved through a gate, the handler should back up and relieve pressure on the collective flight zone. This will help prevent damage to fences. The leaders should be allowed to find the gate. Learn these methods and you will be rewarded with easy-to-handle cattle. If this gathering method is used regularly, the cattle will become trained to bunch together when they are moved .

Temple Grandin, one of the world's foremost experts in animal handling and behavior, is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. Her books and a video on animal handling and facilities are available by contacting her at 970/229-0703 or at her website: