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How it all started: The beginning of Bud Williams Stockmanship methods, part one

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Every now and then, someone comes along with ideas or observations changing the way people do things, and sometimes even changing the face of an industry. Bud Williams was one of those people, and his unique methods of handling cattle are being adopted by a growing number of folks in the cattle industry – both dairy and beef.  

Bud’s way of doing things is not only easier on the animals and people handling them, but also saves and makes money for the producer, because reducing stress on cattle helps decrease illness and shrink (when selling animals) and increases performance.

Family and
ranching history 

Bud has since passed, but his family continues to put on schools and clinics and help teach his methods, and their students continue to spread his word and wisdom.  

Bud was born in 1932 on a farm in southern Oregon, where his family had work horses, dairy and beef cattle, sheep, hogs, poultry and raised grain and hay. 

“I met him at a country square dance and I married him when I was 14,” his wife Eunice says. “We’d been married for 60 years when he died.” 

She’s now 84 years old and lives in Missouri, but is still a part of his continuing legacy with the family company: Bud Williams Stockmanship. 

“There is no doubt Bud’s methods are better – all the way around – and improve production,” Eunice says. “After we married in 1952, we worked on cattle and sheep ranches in northern California. On our first job at a big ranch in the mountains, Bud was horrified at the way they handled the stock. He told me there was no way he was going to work stock that way.” 

He started figuring out better ways to do it. Bud’s reputation as a problem solver developed from him being a good neighbor and his ability to bring in “the ones that got away” when folks were gathering cattle.

Handling livestock and teaching others

The main things enabling Bud to perfect his method of handling livestock were his great powers of observation and pure stubbornness, she says. He was able to rotationally graze pastures without fences, taking any type of livestock, including weaned calves, onto unfenced ranges and teaching them to stay as a herd.

“After our daughters left home, Bud and I started traveling more, taking jobs that were difficult and interesting,” says Eunice. “We had excellent results working beef and dairy cattle, sheep, goats, elk, fallow deer, reindeer, bison and hogs. We gathered reindeer above the Arctic Circle in Alaska and wild cattle in Mexico and the Aleutian Islands, and helped make remarkable increases in production in dairy herds.”

In 1989, after much urging from people he had helped through the years, Bud began teaching his stockmanship methods to more people.

“Years ago, we went to consult with a dairy milking 1,000 cows which had some problems,” she explains. “They had a hydraulic gate to move cows from the holding pen, which held about 120 head and had a wash pen into the milking parlor. The hydraulic gate kept shoving them closer and closer to the entrance into the parlor. If a cow slipped and the hydraulic gate was still moving, it injured the cow.” 

“The dairymen even had an employee killed by it because the fellow handling the controls by the milk parlor couldn’t see the back end,” she continues. “The dairy wanted Bud to show them how to get cows to go into the parlor in a timely manner without having to use the power gate.”

“We went there to help them, and were in and out for six weeks,” she adds. “We had some schools in the area, and one of our students was with us. While we were teaching, she stayed at the dairy and helped teach the crew how to handle the cattle. During the six weeks, the dairy’s milk production went up 14 percent.”


Reduction in disease was another benefit, according to Eunice.   

“When we arrived, they had 40 cows in the mastitis pen – where cows are kept when they couldn’t use their milk,” she explains. “When we left six weeks later, there were only seven cows that had developed mastitis.”

Beef cattle producers usually don’t have any idea how much production they are losing, but dairy producers know within 24 hours if something is working or not, because milk production is closely measured.

Beef cattle ranchers have been slower to adopt low-stress handling methods because of traditional ways they’ve been moving and working cattle. It’s often a situation where all their friends and neighbors help gather and work cattle, and it can easily become a rodeo, she notes.  

“At branding time, especially when people are roping calves, it often becomes a big party,” says Eunice. “Bud used to compare this to a grocery store owner inviting all his friends and neighbors and turning them loose to do various jobs; they might forget to stock the shelves and do inventory while they are partying.”

One of Bud’s students who puts on stockmanship schools, Whit Hibbard, is part of a family ranching operation in Montana and he tells people after their ranch adopted Bud Williams’ methods, they’ve saved about $38,000 every year when selling 500 yearlings, due to much less shrink on the animals.

Key considerations 

“There are actually very few rules for how to handle cattle efficiently with minimal stress,” Eunice says.  

Bud’s method of working livestock consists of learning to “read” what the animal is sharing through its body language, and changing a person’s position so the animal goes where one wants it to go. 

It is also important animals do not consider humans as a threat to them.  If the goal is to get cattle to move away, the worst place to stand is right behind them. 

Behind an animal is their blind spot; they want to turn around and keep an eye on the person working them. It’s important to put the pressure on from the side at an angle rather than from behind, she notes.  

“Take an angle to make the cow realize if she doesn’t move up, she will get bumped into, and she’ll hurry to get past you,” Eunice explains. “But don’t give a little shove from behind as she goes past, or her reaction will be to immediately turn back instead of going forward.”

Bud told people to not make the mistake of thinking he “babied” animals.  

“He put more pressure on cattle than just about anybody I’ve ever seen, but he applied it in the right place,” she says. “It makes all the difference. He expected cattle to move right out, and he didn’t baby them, but if you are in the wrong place, this is counterproductive and the cattle won’t trust the handler.”

“If someone is in the wrong spot, they are telling cattle the wrong thing,” she explains. “That’s like wanting someone to turn right, but telling them to go left, and then getting mad at them for going to the left.”

“If they are not doing what producers want them to do, producers need to change their message,” she says. “It’s their fault, not the cow’s.”

Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Part two will be featured in an upcoming edition of the Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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