Clinician describes cattle handling

Ray Mueller
Now Media Group


In Curt Pate's view, today's farmers and their employees have lost the innate natural traits that their ancestors had for stockmanship or handling of cattle. He says people 'must be willing to change to fit the times.'

To address that point, the western South Dakota resident and cattleman presented workshops in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including at the Equity Cooperative Livestock auction market here, that were sponsored by the beef promotion councils and the cattlemen's associations in the two states on behalf of the private Beef Quality Assurance program.

Although Pate has his preferences on handling and moving cattle, which he attempted to show with three cull dairy cows that were delivered for sale at the facility here, he said 'there is no right or wrong way unless you are being abusive. And what's abusive is a matter of opinion.'

For example, lambs being born at temperatures of 20 below zero can survive and thrive if they have good care from the ewe, Pate observed. But he acknowledged that convincing the owners of the Fido and Fluffy in New York City about that is a tough sell.

The roundabout connection

Pate likens the movement of cattle to the roundabouts which have been installed at many highway intersections to keep traffic moving. He pointed that the roundabouts are set up to direct vehicles to turn to the left.

As a result, motorists need to both drive and think while they are going through a roundabout, Pate stated. He noted that it's quite different than the more familiar 'stop and go' at intersections.

Similarly, the rapid advances and changes in technology during recent decades have led to humans losing the art of moving cattle properly, Pate suggested. 'Previous generations of farmers worked very closely with cattle every day.'

Cattle pace and preferences

One fact that humans working with cattle today seem to have forgotten is the difference between their normal walking paces, Pate observed. The usual walking pace of humans is between 3 and 6 miles per hour while it is only 1 to 3 mph for cattle, he pointed out. 'And dairy cattle are not athletic.'

As with highway vehicles, groups of cattle move best when they are faced in the same direction, Pate noted. Facing and going in the same direction creates a good flow because it is natural, making them comfortable and content.

Reflecting on his recent first stop at a robotic milking dairy farm, he suggested that a better design would be to have cows facing their herdmates in the free-stalls as they are being milked. As herd animals, cattle have a natural trait of wanting to be able to see one another rather than being visually isolated, he explained.

Avoid driving from behind

Understanding the sight lines of bovines is crucial in how one ought to try to move them, Pate emphasized. His basic 'messages of the day' were 'don't take the life out of animals by pushing from behind them' and 'don't drive them from behind.'

Gentle animals are likely to stop when being driven from behind and it will usually take more pressure to move them, Pate predicted. Wild cattle will tend to run if approached from behind, he warned.

Use a moderate pressuring style in most cases and walk back and forth from side to side of the animal to direct its nose forward, Pate advised. He described the kinds of pressure as driving, drawing and maintaining.

As a calf, an animal is accustomed to being approached from the front while being fed or otherwise cared for, Pate noted. So starting to approach them from behind when the animal is 6 months or older is not a good practice.

Cattle's field of vision

Pate explained that the primary field of vision for cattle is to the front and to the side. That means that anyone trying to move them needs to approach from the side and not from the rear because the animal will turn its head to watch the pusher who's behind it and then will not continue moving to where it is being directed to go, he explained.

What most humans probably don't realize is that the left eye is linked to the right or reacting side of the brain while the right eye is tied to the left or thinking side of the brain, Pate indicated. How this applies to moving cattle is that they should be approached from the left side first, he explained.

Prohibited practices

Yelling and screaming are out of order when moving cattle because they're counterproductive, Pate emphasized. He noted that this would likely create a scramble rather than a natural smooth flow in addition to adversely affecting production and feed intake and creating stresses which shut down the immune system.

Pate allows some use of a rattle paddle but warned that cattle will gradually become accustomed to it and it should never be used as a whip. While waving a broom or shovel might serve to draw attention and create movement, he prefers using a flag instead.

On the question of using a 'hot shot,' Pate hopes it could be avoided. He said it should be used only if there is no alternative.

Safety first

In all cases, safety needs to be the priority for both a handler and the animal, Pate emphasized. 'The animal must always have an escape route.'

'If you're trying to force a large and strong animal, you're going to lose,' Pate warned. 'Your attitude is related to safety and production. It changes the whole picture and cattle will respond accordingly.'

Anyone who is in the habit of getting mad when working with cattle needs to change, Pate suggested. The alternative is not enjoying the work and probably not deriving much of a profit from it.

Quality of life

While it's a common human phenomenon to want to have some connection with animals, that relationship should also result in 'quality of life,' Pate stated. In turn, it's only common sense that those who work with animals for commercial purposes should earn a satisfactory income from doing so.

'Money is needed to buy the things and services that you do not do for yourself,' Pate pointed out. He promised that those who work with cattle will succeed on that point if their priorities are safety, getting needed tasks done, and serving the consumer.

Pate, who began as a horse trainer before switching to cattle as the subject for his training services and clinics, admitted that his results with one to three cull dairy cows in the auction ring for the clinic here weren't up to par.

He succeeded, however, in showing how one cow became agitated and was refusing to pay attention to him as she was trying to get through the door separating her from the other two cows which were then in a nearby holding pen. During his presentation, he had predicted that this could happen.