My View From The Country

Why I Prefer Moving Cattle With A Horse Rather Than An ATV

The rise in use of all-terrain vehicles (ATV) and side-by-sides – and less reliance on horses – to work cattle, helped force producers to focus on improving cattle disposition.

Disposition is highly heritable and the industry has put tremendous selection pressure upon this important trait. If you couple that progress with improved cattle handling practices and facilities, the days of stampedes and wild cows seem to be essentially over.

Taking disposition scores every time we worked cattle the in the last decade or so has proven to me that selection for improved disposition not only works, but is relatively simple to do. However, I think part of the improvement in disposition has occurred for other reasons as well.

First, is the cost of labor – cattlemen are running more cows with less help, and simply can’t afford to get hurt. Plus, while it’s well documented that cattle with better dispositions feed better and are more efficient, the greatest benefit is simply the improvement in working around the cattle on a day-by-day basis.

But the rise in use of all-terrain vehicles (ATV) and side-by-sides – and less reliance on horses – to work cattle, I think has also forced producers to focus on improving cattle disposition. My experience this week validates this hypothesis.

We had six pairs and a couple of bred heifers go through a water gap and into a neighbor’s pasture where they commingled with about 150 of our neighbor’s cows. The pasture was big, and with my teenage cowboys away showing horses, I thought I might have to ride all over the pasture to find the cows.

So I opted for jumping on the ATV. I took a few panels with me, and the plan was to sort my cows off the neighbor’s herd, push them to the makeshift corral, and then haul them back to where they belonged.

Four-wheelers have their place, and I use them all the time, but moving cows on one is like digging a ditch with a spoon. It can be done, but it isn’t a good use of one’s time. We’ve built lots of facilities and selected hard for good disposition in our cows, in large part to accommodate our desire to use these blasted contraptions.

The bred heifers were easy to pen, and the first four pairs were penned without a lot of heartburn, too. The last two, however, were a different story, as a calf kept wanting to go back to the herd, and then so did her momma.

Eventually, I made the decision to head back and saddle up to get the job done. I have to admit, a cowboy feels a lot better with spurs on his heels rather than a pair of pliers in his back pocket.

Machines make our life so much easier, but I couldn’t help but think that my 4-wheeler was like an axe, and the horse was more of a scalpel. They both have their place, but there is nothing like having the right tool for the job. That cow that was wild when worked with a 4-wheeler turned out to be just fine when I was on horseback.

The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 3

wynne (not verified)
on Aug 6, 2014

I agree there is nothing better to move, cut, or sort cattle than well trained horses and cattle dogs. They can do the job for you with great results and no stress on the cattle or the workers. The cowboy idea beats the machines every time and makes the work enjoyable. Fresh air is a lot easier to breathe than machine fumes.

W. E. (not verified)
on Aug 7, 2014

Bravo, Troy. Nothing beats a good horse or a good dog and a human being with the good sense to employ them well. Even before I became a grass-farming livestock producer, I had a life-long love and respect for good horses and used to ride until a couple of bad back injuries made me give it up. Today, I use management intensive grazing techniques which train cattle to come easily when called. As I move our cattle from paddock to paddock daily, I do all my cattle work on our farm on foot with a barely trained but very eager-to-please Aussie that lives to work and watches my every move. The cows follow me and the dog follows the cows or guards gates. And yes, disposition in animals is highly heritable. We started culling our cows and bulls with disposition problems and selecting for calm, workable dispositions about 35 years ago. Nowadays, I am in my sixties. Working the cattle on foot daily, I have no trouble at all getting them to go where I want them to go by putting up a single polywire string and a few step-in posts for guidance. My work requires constancy and a pair of good walking boots. I have never owned a four-wheeler and don't intend to unless I get to the point where I can't walk. Unlike far too many cattlemen and women in my generation, I don't have to worry about being overweight and I don't need a gym membership. But I do envy your ability to ride a good horse....

on Dec 21, 2014

Not that I have any experiencem moving cattle, nor am I in the industry, but there's just something to be said about doing things the classic way. I mean, it's worked all this while and it doesn't hurt to keep a bit of tradition isn't it.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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