A blog promoting low stress cattle handling and stockmanship skills based on my own experiences here at our cow-calf, stocker and feedlot operation.
Overcoming Distraction with Body Language
If you’ve read my other blog posts, then you know I use the phrase “pressure and release” a lot. Here are a few clips I put together showing examples of pressure and release. The clip includes audio so be sure to have your speakers on.
Dwight and Greg of Black Diamond Angus have always been laid back and quiet around their cattle. However, when they started working on their stockmanship skills they were able to practice even more control over their cattle. About the same time they realized that their facilities, a solid alleyway with catwalk and crowd tub, were slowing down their processing. See more details below:
With their tub they had to push from behind and if cattle would stop in the alleyway they were stuck getting up on the catwalk to push them forward. The cattle then are more focused on what’s above them and not even looking ahead where they need to go.
I witnessed the struggles of their facilities while I was there to ultrasound their feedlot cattle at re-implanting for the past couple years. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that many other producers would have thought they were doing a fine job handling their cattle. It’s not until you witness the difference stockmanship skills can make and see how easy working cattle can be that makes you question the “normal” and accepted way.
Once the Pullmans recognized this, they replaced their crowd tub with a bud box and opened up the side of their alleyway. A bud box is a rectangular pen that connects to the alleyway. Bud Williams created it and he would build it to process cattle at the operations he worked at. It’s based on his years of observing cattle.
Since Dwight and Greg spent some time polishing their stockmanship skills they were familiar with the combination of pressure and release and the angle used to operate a bud box. The way I see it, the heavy-duty tub door is replaced with skill. We no longer have to “push” or force the cattle up to the alleyway.
The open alleyway is also very inviting to the cattle. They wait patiently because they can see out. Greg, a recent grad of SDSU, who usually does the chute work, commented the cattle even walk up into the squeeze chute a lot more willingly as well.
Dwight and Greg are also very happy with how easy it is to load-out cattle through the bud box. It is used the same way as in the video except the cattle turn the opposite direction of the alleyway to enter the trailer. Either way they use it, it’s based on the observation that cattle want to return to where they came from once they hit the gate on the far side of the bud box.
I have read comments in articles questioning the safety of bud boxes. However, through my experiences I feel a bud box operated by a trained handler is safer for people and cattle, than other facilities operated by untrained handlers. In the past I think facilities have been widely used to replace training and the use of stockmanship skills.
A few weeks ago when I shot this video I was very impressed with the bud box, the alleyway and the way Dwight and Greg handled their cattle. We scanned a pen of feedlot cattle with very little effort and no fighting or forcing the cattle. It makes for a really laid back, enjoyable day. These kinds of days are the reason I do what I do and why I love working in the cattle industry. Also, I am happy to report these beautiful steers and heifers graded 98% choice!
Dwight does an awesome job in the video but since he is always open to trying new ideas, I’d like to make just a couple comments. First, I’d like to have him try it without the paddle. Just like we took the tub door away and added skill, I’d like to take the paddle away now. You would be surprised how well the cattle respond to only having to focus on the pressure from the body and not the inconsistency of the paddle. I feel we can keep our body language consistent and therefore it is more predictable, leading to more trust, not to mention being more precise with where we are applying pressure. In the past, we would of never believed this either, we always had a stick or paddle in our hand. Now it would be awkward for us to use one.
The other thing I’d mention for Dwight to try is after the first calf goes into the alley, when he thinks he should pressure the others, instead release pressure and step back. They want to follow the leader pretty bad anyways and it is the “release” of pressure that lets the cattle go forward or move off.
I’ve had to remind myself of this quite a bit lately as I get cows in from the pasture and corrals to synch and AI. When my instinct says pressure more, I step back and release the pressure, therefore letting the cattle focus ahead and move off from me.
So, Dwight and Greg-keep up the good work and thank you for letting me use this video for my blog!
The way cattle work through our facilities largely depends on how we interact with them out in the feedlot pen or pasture, before we even bring them into the corral. If we stay consistent, using our stockmanship skills at all times, then working them through the facilities can be a breeze.
In the past when I would bring cattle into the tub, while shutting the tub door, the cattle would try to catch me in their eye, usually causing them to circle. They would do this because they always want to see what’s pressuring them. Once I had the tub door shut and they circled, I would have no control over what was going on in the tub. The paddle or stick I was using didn’t help much either, as these aids usually left the cattle focusing on me and not the entrance to the alleyway where I wanted them to go. Once I started noticing how much cattle try to catch us in their eye, I realized the same issues I had with the tub were also being experienced at many of the places I would ultrasound at.
Now we leave the tub door open to keep movement going the whole way to the alleyway. That way they can always see me and catch me with their eye while they enter the facilities. It gives us more control of the cattle and the cattle are willing to go where we are directing them.
This clips includes grass heifers I brought in off pasture that morning, steers we bought a few weeks prior, our breeding heifers going through for the 3rd time of their synch protocol and boughten cows that had never been through the facilities before.
In this clip Andrew uses pressure & release to tag and tattoo a calf. This calf took a little longer than most but is a good example.
Before we could even attempt this, we had to be very familiar with the basic stockmanship skills we were taught. Our cows would of never allowed us to do this before. Even the way we approach the pasture and the body language we use, will have a huge impact on that cow and her allowing us to do this.
Our intern, Ashley Stover, from Virginia Tech., pressuring calves to go down the alleyway to receive vaccinations. This really beats the old way-pushing them the whole way down there!
You’ll see the cows react similar to the cattle being worked in our feedlot facilities in my May post. There is audio to this video.
In the past we would go to the back of the heifers and “push” them towards the gate. Sometimes we would end up working hard to keep them from turning back on us.
Now I know we were over pressuring the ones at the back and under pressuring those at the front who needed to be the “leaders”. Here I am applying pressure at an angle to get my leaders started. Once they emerge I continue working at an angle, reading the cattle to gauge when I need to take a step back, releasing the pressure.
We cut out the top of our alleyway and added wire mesh so the cattle could see us. We can now use body language to control them even when they are in the alleyway. Here there is a steer stopped in the alleyway that I easily move up. No twisting tails or paddle or hot shot needed. The video is short but shows how quick the calf responded to the pressure of me just walking by him. First, get his attention first. This also works good in a squeeze chute which we prefer one without blinders.
Cattle Handling & Stockmanship Skills
Melissa Arhart - Arhart Feedlot Technologies - Arhart Farms Inc. - Alpena, SD 57312
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