Seeing In Pictures…

If you have read one of Dr. Temple Grandin’s books or seen her movie, you will remember hearing that cattle see in pictures. What this means is that cattle view the world as a collection of images. They are not linear thinkers – rather, they live in the visual moment. Good cattle caregivers understand what it means to see in pictures because they spend their days doing just that in order to effectively communicate with their animals.

Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session...

Newly arrived cattle traveling back to the home pen after an exercising session…

I believe that when asking cattle to move from one place to another, the handler not only needs to see in pictures, but also to envision angles within the images. Moving cattle calmly and correctly necessitates applying appropriate pressure from the appropriate angle to instigate orderly movement. Depending on the personalities of the animals as well as their past interactions with human handlers, this angled pressure can range from incredibly soft to strong in nature. Regardless of the level of life involved in the pressure, it is the release of that pressure when the animal or group of animals responds correctly that creates a healthy animal/handler learning moment.

There are two kinds of bovine movement: a frantic flight/fight response that is fueled by fear, and a deliberate thinking response that comes from an effective interaction. The goal is to accomplish the latter, and it always makes me smile when I am savvy enough to enable a calf to think. At that moment, harmony exists as the right thing becomes the easy thing.

While this short video is several years old, in it my favorite blonde cowgirl does a nice job of showing appropriate and angled pressure as she asks a group of yearling cattle to exit the home pen. In order to effectively communicate with this group of animals, Megan has to see the pen through the same lens as the cattle and then interact with them in a meaningful way. One of Megan’s greatest strengths as a cattle handler is her ability to see in pictures and accurately read and respond to cattle behavior. This sense allows her to respond with the appropriate level of urgency to each interaction.

In some ways, I think that it is easier for a child to develop this sense. Their unbiased perspective and simplistic view of the world enables them to more easily shift from “human thinking” to “bovine thinking”. Once a young person develops the attentive focus needed to interact, her/his brain is unencumbered and more open to a natural interaction.

It's always a good thing when the cattle handler wears a smile!

It’s always a good thing when the cattle handler wears a smile!

I am not a natural visual thinker and my linear tendencies sometimes challenge my cattle handling skills; but I recognize the importance of thinking like a bovine. Over the years, I have consciously re-programed my brain to view cattle and their surroundings in pictures. Moving cattle out of the home pen and down the alley becomes a series of images and angles that flash through my mind amidst the rapid fire pictures of cattle expression and behavior that combines to determine my actions as the handler. It takes a clear mind and a keen focus, but provides an incredibly interesting journey…


My favorite farmer read this post on Sunday afternoon and informed me that it was “marked by nerdiness” — I hope that someone other than Megan finds it interesting 🙂


Filed under Animal Welfare, General

9 responses to “Seeing In Pictures…

  1. Kathy Bottrell

    With all due respect to Megan, I found it very interesting.

  2. Heather

    Handling cattle or sheep in our situation can be a challenge. If you go in with too much gusto or speed they freak out (especially the black faced). Handling calmly is one of the hardest things to teach and remember. If not tempers flair, animals go nuts and do not cooperate and frustration ensues. My son sometimes wants to go in too fast, where as my daughter thinks more before she maneuvers them. We have to remind each other how to act and behave so that they (the sheep) understand where we want them to go. Also the feed bucket helps a lot too. Very good topic today.

    • Glad that you enjoyed it, Heather! Sometimes the most important thing that we can do as handlers is to set it up and then just be patient as the animals think it through 🙂

      Good luck,

  3. Great post. Megan does a good job with the cattle. You taught her well. Keep up the good work. 🙂

  4. cowdoc lana

    Anne – I think perhaps you missed one way cattle move – yes there is head high, fear running and there is deliberate moving along at bovine speed in synch with the human, but there is also the frolic/gamboling of joy – it can be human initiated or it can be “self initiated”, it can be one bovine or an entire group, calves are seemingly more likely to do it than cows but it is not age restricted. It is a behavior I see when all needs are met and one can expend energy on “joy” – I interpret this behavior to mean that all is right with the world. I didn’t think it was nerdy – I would consider describing the mechanization of alfalfa cubes nerdy!

    • Great addition, Lana! You are definitely correct — and I think that you gave me another idea for a future blog post. Thank you—

      My favorite farmer is a unique type of nerd so he doesn’t view his mechanization of alfalfa cubes the same way that most people do 🙂 The girls and I enjoy teasing him about it…


  5. cowdoc lana

    Sounds like a great plan : )

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