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: www.grandin.com