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Cattle handling: Proper handling solves problems

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Lingle – Moving cattle successfully involves positive body language and timing, a veterinarian who advises producers and feedlot operators in cattle handling explained. Randy Hunter lead a discussion about proper cattle handling during the High Plains Ranch Practicum in Lingle on Sept. 5.
    “Cattle handling is the buzz word right now,” Hunter said. “The cattle industry is finding out that vaccines and antibiotics don’t solve all their problems.”
    Handling cattle properly and having good facilities to work with can alleviate a lot of their stress.
What language do cattle speak?
    “What language do cattle speak?” Hunter asked the group. “Cattle speak body language, so you need to learn to pay attention when you’re walking up to them. It is important to learn how to read your cattle.”
    Attitude also plays a part in how cattle respond, he continued, saying, “If you walk up to them with a bad attitude, they won’t want to be around you.”
    Manners are also important. The way we present ourselves to the cattle also determines whether they will respond. Hunter said the manners of the horse being used are also critical.
    “If the horse is not behaving and is prancing around, it will make the cattle nervous,” he explained. “The same is true with a four-wheeler. If the muffler is off or you are revving it around, it creates anxiety in the cattle.”
    “Cattle are sensitive to everything from your posture and how you look at them, to your manners and attitude,” he explained. “You are invading their space, so timing is everything. Even if you do everything right, but at the wrong time, it is still wrong.”
    When working with cattle, Hunter said producers need to use a parallel motion to slow or stop cattle, and make sure the cattle always have a place to go.
    To demonstrate his point, he showed a video of four feeder calves trying to move up the alley next to one another. A worker behind the cattle was trying to force a calf behind them forward. Hunter pointed out the calf.
    “Do you notice that he has no place to go? These other four calves are blocking his way, and until they move forward he has nowhere to go,” Hunter said.
Apply pressure until response
    Cattle can be moved successfully by applying pressure on them until they respond, Hunter said.
    “It is important to realize that when cattle respond to the pressure, stop and take the pressure off. Once the animal becomes comfortable again, reenter their space and immediately reward any movement they make by stopping. Don’t worry about which direction the animal moves,” he explained. “Just focus on immediately rewarding any movement by removing the pressure. This reward for movement can take place while you are evaluating the animal for health status.”
    Hunter encouraged ranchers to get more of a feel for his techniques by practicing them on foot, before trying them on horseback. If producers use a horse to work their cattle, basic horse skills are essential.
    “You need to be able to control your horse,” he stated. “That means being able to stop it, back it, control the front and hind quarters and control its rib and nose.”
    Hunter offered these steps to moving cattle on horseback. First, allow the animals to move in the direction you want them to go. Then relieve pressure and gain position by fading your horse away from the animal. When the animal faces you, turns away or stops, you must stop your horse, he said.
    Finally, if the animal challenges your request to move toward the gate, use your position to block its effort to escape. If the block is accomplished, immediately remove the pressure. If you can’t stop the animal, let it go. If you chase it, it teaches the animal it can get by you.
    Hunter said it is important to move cattle slowly, keeping speed to a minimum. Stockmen shouldn’t be afraid to give cattle time to adjust to where they are, such as approaching a gate or a bridge.
    “Don’t make the gate or bridge a more miserable place to be than where they were,” he explained. “If you can just hold them there and provide them a little leeway until they relax, their natural leader will find its way to the front and they will find the gate, or move over the bridge.”
Pasture loading cattle
    Hunter also showed the group a video of how he loads cattle into a trailer in the middle of a pasture.
    “I don’t force them into the trailer,” he explained. “I let them get into the trailer. They will signal they are interested in getting in when they stop and start sniffing it.”
    In the video, Hunter slowly moves a steer toward the back of the trailer on horseback. When the calf gets near the back of the trailer, Hunter stops his horse and gives the calf some time to relax. If the calf moves away from the trailer or tries to go around the pickup, Hunter calmly moves his horse toward the calf bringing it back to the rear of the trailer.
    By making the trailer seem like a retreat from the pressure Hunter is applying to the calf, eventually the calf will get into the trailer by itself.
    “If they are not going to get into the trailer, get them away from it,” Hunter cautioned. “You don’t want to teach them to camp outside the trailer.”
    Gayle Smith is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

The hardest part of handling
    Veterinarian Randy Hunter admitted the hardest part of cattle handling can be working with other people – especially if they don’t share your methods of handling cattle.
    “Everybody is where they’re at,” Hunter stated. “By that, I mean when someone comes to help you, they have a set of skills. If you’re the parent, you think the kid is never doing it right. If you’re the kid, you wish the parent would just leave you alone.”
    “Experiences lead you to be what you are now. To teach someone, you have to appreciate where they are at and how they got there. It is important to figure out how they got there in the first place before giving them too much advice,” he continued.    
    In his experiences training feedlot employees, Hunter explained how important it is that everyone practices the same cattle handling philosophies.
    “If they don’t, mostly they are working against each other which makes it more difficult to accomplish the job,” he said.

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