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It’s The Pitts: In a Perfect World

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Has anyone noticed all of the articles and presentations lately about low-stress handling?

Frankly, I don’t know who the writers are referring to – me or the cows. One article said you shouldn’t do anything to cause fear, stress or agitation, but try telling that to a banker.

One study I read said low-stress calves can weigh 20 pounds more than their stressed out counterparts in the month following weaning. Another study came to the conclusion stressed out cattle can be tougher to eat. 

Regarding eating quality, I assume writers are referring to cull cow beef, which doesn’t pertain to my operation. My cull cows were never tough to eat because they were so wild, I was never able to catch them.

Awhile back, there was a great article in the American Quarter Horse Journal on how to “read a cow,” which is a favorite subject of mine. I much prefer reading a cow to reading a non-fiction book. 

One type of cow the article referred to was the “Eat Your Lunch Cow,” which, interestingly enough, my herd was completely comprised of. But, in my defense, the insane beasts were this way when I bought them. How else does one think I could afford to buy them?

Another person who was quoted on the subject said while working cattle, the cattleman should “assume a leadership role in a non-threatening manner.” I’m a little confused here – are they talking about gathering cattle or running for Congress? 

Another said if a rancher senses their cows are becoming agitated, they should back off to the point where their cattle no longer feel like they’re in danger, but if I backed off that far, I’d be on the neighbor’s place. 

Another suggestion was producers should never drive cattle from the rear but off to the side. I guarantee if I did this, my sneaky cows would leak out the rear, and by the time I reached the corral, they’d be all gone.

One of the unwritten rules of low-stress handling is there should be no sudden movements. This was exactly my problem. My horse Gentleman was incapable of such a stunt. The only sudden movement he ever had was when he broke into the feed room, ate too much rich grain and had a sudden movement of the bowels. 

Also, if there was to be no sudden movements, how else was my wife going to get to the hole in the fence before the cows did?

Curt Pate is at the forefront of the low-stress handling movement, and I had the good fortune to dine with him once, then later watch one of his clinics, which I highly recommend. Curt’s a fabulous stockman and a great guy. 

My problem was Curt was never there to help me on roundup day, and instead I got a wildlife photographer, a certified public accountant who just came for the free donuts, a frustrated team roper and a spy from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who wanted to catch us doing dastardly things to my cattle.

My friend and fellow Journalist and Rancher Heather Smith Thomas wrote another of her fabulous articles, this one dealing with low stress, in which she recommends minimizing noise. 

I don’t think Heather ever had a cowdog like mine, and if she ever came to help me work cows with my dog, she’d be swearing like a drunken sailor after 10 minutes. On second thought, Heather is too nice of a person to ever do that. But, you get the idea.

I found it interesting one of the things which can irritate cattle and cause them stress are odors. I assume they were talking about cattle’s competition – chicken and hogs. 

I know odors arouse, because every time Buzzard Bill the tallow man pulled into our place, the cattle would scatter like cow pies out the back end of a manure spreader. I had a neighbor who rarely bathed and he had the same effect.

In a perfect world, I’d have tame cows, a prize-winning cutting horse, two good cowdogs, an understanding landlord who would build some decent facilities and Curt Pate to help gather the cows instead of just me, Gentleman and my wife behind the wheel of our truck with the turning radius of a Sherman tank.

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