Yesterday morning marked the official end of summer for the youth of Cozad. Each year, the first day of school creates a natural transition from the summer to the fall. Transitions always challenge me and this year was no exception to the rule. I find comfort in routine (perhaps that is why I am a good cattle caregiver), and it tends to throw me off when change occurs.
My favorite blonde cowgirl shares this tendency with me, so this last week has been bittersweet for us. Megan spent the summer working on her cattle handling skills helping me to exercise calves and also participating on the processing crew. Last Wednesday we received a group of new cattle into the feed yard, and I gave Megan the responsibility of exercising them during the acclimation period. While she often acts as an assistant during acclimation, these steers provided the inaugural group for her to acclimate on her own.
The previous owner did a great job teaching his calves to trust a human caregiver, so these animals provided an excellent group for Megan to guide through the process. The video below shows her moving the cattle out of the home pen at the beginning of the last acclimation/exercising session Sunday morning.
By the end of the acclimation period, the cattle have learned to attribute comfort to the home pen, and prefer to remain there rather than feeling a natural drive to go somewhere else. Watching a group of cattle make this shift (from wanting to leave, to desiring to stay) is a fascinating process. It takes several days (these cattle were on day 5) and requires cattle savvy to guide them to this change. A few thoughts as you watch the video:
- When you have a lone handler and many animals, the first step is to herd the animals together in a group — this both makes them feel more comfortable and also makes leading them easier.
- The second step is to ask them to move in a designated direction through the use of alternate pressure. They should continue moving in this direction until something stops them (like a fence or a closed gate). An open gate allows for them to leave the pen when asked.
- Calm cattle under good leadership walk in straight lines with positive energy.
- Consistent and confident handler behavior makes learning easier for the cattle.
Good cattle handling instills important leadership qualities in the caregiver. Cattle are very sensitive, yet they are willing to look for guidance and leadership when the handler can empathize and correctly gauge their “human interaction bubble”. I believe that the most important skill to develop when working with animals is the ability to look outside of yourself, viewing the world through their perspective, while still retaining the confidence of a leader. It has been fun for me, both as an animal welfare enthusiast and as a mom, to watch Megan develop these skills.
Yesterday, Megan traded the feed yard for 8th grade. There, she will learn different things using different learning tools than those developed on the farm. I do believe that her summer lessons will grant her a broader educational perspective. I have to admit that we were both very sad to have the summer come to an end. I will miss my cattle handling assistant and she will miss being a valued member of our feed yard crew.
With each summer that draws to an end, I realize how quickly my girls are growing up and find myself wanting to hit the “pause” button.
Some days it seems that parenting is a bittersweet journey.