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Livestock Behavior

Creating a working relationship with animals depends upon our ability to manage livestock behavior. Managing livestock behavior properly will result in cattle that are calm, relaxed and responsive to pressure - cattle that have been taught to take pressure. This allows us to use the least pressure/effort possible to get all handling and moving done efficiently, safely and as stress free as possible.

We need to achieve a balance between respect and trust.

The most important part of training or handling an animal (the same thing) is the effect it will have in on its mind and subsequently it's behavior. The foundation that safe, efficient, stress free handling is built upon is the proper management of the animalís mental/emotional state. Stockmanship without this focus will inevitably result in situations where safety, efficiency, and/or stress levels will be unnecessarily compromised. An animal has an emotionally reactive mind that in turn controls its body. An attentive and relaxed mind is the best channel through which to influence the movement and direction of the animalís body. The more nervous and frightened an animal the less responsive (predictable and controllable) and the more reactive (unpredictable and uncontrollable) it becomes.

You always have a choice as to how you are going to exert control over an animal. You can either focus on the mental state of the animal as a barometer for how much pressure you can safely use, or just opt for raw speed, power and aggression - regardless of the response of the animal. If you choose to use aggression, speed and power to get the job done, just be aware of the risks associated with this approach to both the animal and yourself. Understanding cow psychology - the way an animal responds to your body language and movement - is the first step to success in cattle handling.

There are many steps in the escalation of pressure between the minimum and the maximum. If the herd you are separating individual animals from is calm and easy going - not a bunch of snakes as a result of repetitive poor handling - a skilled horse and rider will get the job done in the majority of cases, with out sacrificing anything. Horse and rider are going to be able to pick up a hip and go with most of these animals when and where they need to without a fight. They will also be able to face up to the animals that challenge them and use a cutting type sweep to convince the animal that turning away is the best choice. There are animals that wonít take that amount of pressure without coming unglued and running off. Success, of course, depends on many factors: past handling experiences the animal has had and its tolerance to pressure; its need to stay where it is, or its willingness to go where you want; itís age; the time of year, and; the class of animal. Pulling a young aggressive bull in the second week of the breeding season with cows in heat is an entirely different proposition than a worn out long aged bull at the end of the breeding season.

Itís the responsibility of the handler to read an animalís response to pressure, determine how much pressure it will take and adjust accordingly. A question I often get asked is at what point in the process of working an animal you are having trouble with do you change your tactics. Please keep in mind that our usual definition of "trouble" is rooted in our time focused definition of success. Your ability to accurately assess and adjust to the animalís personality and itís response to being worked will determine your success. The mistake people make is to approach all animals the same and automatically ratchet up the pressure when their patience has expired. Some animals are calm yet obstinate. They will put their head down and challenge you or at least do their best to ignore you. With this attitude more pressure is required. In this situation we need enough fear to get respect tempered with enough compassion that we still have trust. Other animals are sincerely frightened and the last thing that need is more fear. There are many different personalities and responses an animal can exhibit when it is being handled, they all require something a little or a lot different.