Here are some tips to keep in mind when handling cattle in the pasture and corrals.
In the pasture:
- Remember flight zones. Use just enough pressure to move an animal without sending it over the fence.
- Point of balance. Cattle tend to move forward if you are "behind" their shoulder and backward if you are "in front" of their shoulder. If cattle won't move forward in an alley way, try putting down the hotshot and walking by them from front to back.
- Take your time. It is faster to do it right the first time than to do it twice.
- Keep moving. People in motion are easy for cattle to see and relate to. When the motion stops, cattle get nervous. Their instinct is to turn around and clearly see what stopped, because it may be something with big teeth ready to pounce on them. Move back and forth behind a set of cattle, don't follow straight behind them.
- Walk in straight lines, not in curves.
- Guide the front animals, not the middle of the herd. The majority of the herd will follow the leaders.
- Don't stop when you reach an open gate. The cattle should know there is a gate there, so go ahead and put them through it at a reasonable pace. When you stop to "let them find the hole," they turn around and face you because you took all the pressure off. Then you have to turn them around again and start all over. It is easier just to go straight through.
- Cull animals that are consistently wild or aggressive.
In the corral:
- Eliminate shadows, trash, chains, etc. These things distract cattle and cause them to balk.
- Don't yell.
- Remove any protruding bolts, nails, sharp corners, etc. that can cut cattle or people.
- Eliminate noisy chutes, headgates, etc.
- Always have an escape route in mind.
- Don't fight a cow that gets mad, because one of you will get hurt. It doesn't matter if "the cow wins."
- Remember that cattle like to go back where they came from. Use that to design facilities that help you get cattle into crowd tubs, to sort cattle, etc.
- Don't overfill the crowd tub and lanes.
- Don't put a back-up gate right at the entrance of the lane from the crowd tub. It will cause cattle to balk. Put it one body length up from the entrance.
- Hotshots are a big can of worms. I think about hotshot use like this: Imagine that the hotshot has a short in the handle, and every time you shock a cow, you get shocked yourself. You can still use it when absolutely necessary, but that will cut out unnecessary uses.
- Take your time. We want to be efficient with our time, and we don't want to stress animals by making them stand longer than they have to. However, unlike the Olympics, there are no gold medals handed out for who does it the fastest. Oftentimes, that cow would have moved if you had just waited two more seconds before using the hotshot.
- Before you go to handle cattle, discuss the plan and the goals with your crew.
For more information about safe and effective livestock handling, go to:
"To really test a marriage, have a husband and wife sort cattle together." Dr. Ron Hanson, Univ. of Nebraska