Tag Archives: cattle caregiver

Keeping Our Cool…

I had an unwritten protocol at the feed yard for myself and the rest of my crew in the event that someone lost their temper:

  1. Make sure that all animals are safe in an appropriate pen.
  2. Walk away until you are once again calm.

The flip side of losing your temper is keeping your cool. Spending 20 years caring for cattle taught me the importance of rationally assessing a situation while simultaneously controlling my temper. For years, my girls claimed that I had twice as much patience with my cattle as I did with them. In all fairness, this was likely true as my steadfast mantra as feed yard boss lady was:

The cattle come first. They do not understand your brain but can sense and cue off of your emotions. Calm cattle caregivers lead to calm and well comfortable cattle.

ALWAYS KEEP YOUR COOL!

Over the years, I periodically lost my temper with myself, my crew, and the occasional truck driver that serviced us at the feed yard; but I tried to recover quickly to ensure that my cattle did not feel my frustration. I think this was one of the keys to my success as a cowgirl. Sometimes, you just have to take a moment to collect yourself before continuing the journey. That is what I call being a responsible caregiver.

A month ago, my favorite brunette bet me that I could not go a week without losing my temper. She spent a good part of her childhood comparing me to Old Faithful, laughingly explaining to anyone who would listen that her mom displayed frequent and predictable displays of emotion 😉  It is 100% true that for years I placed a higher priority on keeping my cool with my animals than I did with the people in my life. The moment that she wagered the bet, I made the decision to strengthen this personal weakness.

I am proud to say that Old Faithful remains calm and has not erupted in more than 30 days. I’ve learned a few important things along the way.

  • Conveying your passion in a respectful way provides an effective way to inspire others to do the same.
  • The key (for me) to warding off anger is to take on a perspective of thankfulness. I’ve found that it is difficult to become angry when I focus thankfully on my blessings.
  • Patience and encouragement combined with a steadfast persistence helps to bring about positive change – both in yourself and in others.

At the bottom of the Feed Yard Foodie home page is a quote by quarterback Drew Brees from his book Coming Back Stronger. The book is a favorite of mine and it makes an important observation:

“Believing—there are several layers to it. There’s the surface-level type of believing, where you acknowledge that something is true. Then there is a deeper kind of belief–the type that gets inside of you and actually changes you. It’s the kind of belief that changes your behavior, your attitude, and your outlook on life, and the people around you can’t help but notice.”

I need to give credit to my favorite brunette for inspiring me to enable my beliefs to permeate to a deeper level in order to create an important behavioral change. I may occasionally revert back to bad habits; but I am confident that Old Faithful has been put to rest. I have become a believer in keeping my cool 🙂

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Chronicles of a Retiring Feed Yard Boss Lady, General

Cattle Psychology – Where the Romantic Meets the Pragmatist…

A couple of weeks ago at the International Symposium of Beef Cattle Welfare, I heard Dr. David Fraser speak about the conflicting ideas of “romantic” vs “industrial” thoughts toward animal welfare. Listening to his presentation cemented my belief that I was a conflicted romantic and pragmatic animal welfare supporter.

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Saturday morning while exercising calves during a beautiful sunrise, it occurred to me that perhaps I am so drawn to cattle psychology because it is where the romantic meets the pragmatist.

I had spent the week working with some 550 weight fall born calves which arrived at the feed yard anxious and unsettled.  The first morning they waited grouped together in the back corner of the pen too unconfident to actively seek the feed bunk. Using great care, I entered the home pen and asked them to move in straight lines seeking to engage the “thinking” part of their brains. I then gently asked them to exit the pen gate and travel down the alleyway. Sensitive to their large flight zone, I used very mild alternate pressure to guide their movement.

After working with them in the main corral for a few minutes, I asked them to again travel back to the home pen where fresh breakfast had just been placed in the feed bunk. The long stem prairie hay and calf ration in the bunk caught the attention of several of the heifers as they traveled back into the pen, and before long many of the calves were lined up at the bunk finding breakfast.

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As part of my regular cattle acclimation protocol, I followed this same routine every morning for five days. Each day the animals gained a greater level of confidence and a better understanding of life in their new home. When I entered the pen on Saturday (day 5), I knew that the cattle were acclimated.

They looked at me with curiosity and hesitated before agreeing to leave the home pen as if to ask “are you sure that I really have to leave?”

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A good cattle caregiver can sense when a group of animals is settled and comfortable.

The natural energy to leave the home pen is less than the energy seen when the animals return to the home pen. In addition, the cattle travel down the alleyway and past a handler with confidence. Sometimes it is hard to attain this, but when it happens it is a thing of beautiful harmony.

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I love it when a calf asks me a question. I love it even more when he accepts my response and offers an appropriate reaction.

The romantic in me smiles because I know that I have made a positive difference in the welfare of the calf. The pragmatic in me also smiles because my “job” as a cattle caregiver just got a lot simpler. That calf will now handle more easily, is less likely to get sick, and converts his feed more efficiently thereby reducing the environmental footprint of my beef.

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Filed under Animal Welfare, General

Think like a calf…Then open the gate!

We originally were missing about 45 head…Monday morning the number was down to 13…Today it is down to 10…

10 is too many, but better than 45.

I found two calves last night in our corn field.  I got smart—thought like a calf—used patience and good cattle handling savvy—and got them in.  My cowboy and I found a third calf at the neighbor’s this morning.  We are gaining.

The second calf in the field approaching the fence...(I wasn't organized enough to have my camara for the first one...)

Handling cattle in a corral system is very different than handling cattle “at liberty” with no fences.  If any of you do Natural Horsemanship, you may be familiar with the concept of “liberty” and the communication system that you set up with your horse which enables you to interact (either on the ground or in the saddle) with no halter/bridle or lead rope.

Horses "at liberty" in a pasture...Two of them are asking me a question...

Handling cattle at liberty follows the same concepts, but the animals are much “flightier” or wilder.  Small movements mean big things, and it takes a lot of savvy to move a lone animal through a big field with tall crops and then through a gate.

The corn is 6' tall (I am only a measly 5'3" and the calf is much shorter than that...)

It also requires you to “think like a calf” in order to increase your chances of success.  Cattle are concerned with safety (they prefer being in herds/groups), they are concerned with having enough to eat (not a problem out in big green fields with growing vegetation!), they are concerned with finding water to drink.

What did I do?

I put a big red mineral tub in the middle of the gateway (mineral “licks” or “tubs” are a good magnet for cattle–they love them!).  We turned on the water tank that is near the gate.  I waited until dusk when cattle are more likely to be active in the warm summer months…and when the calves that are still in my feed yard are more likely to bawl or vocalize which will “call” the missing calves back into the group.

The mineral tub and water tank that are by the gate...

One by one two animals showed up…

I worked each calf (they showed up about 30 minutes apart) quietly and carefully down the field and toward the gate.  I waited for them to find the mineral tub and move through the gate.

I guided the calves down the alleyway and back to the home pen.

The first calf--turning to ask me a question as I moved him down the alley way. At that moment, I am "outside of his bubble" and he is confident enough to ask me for guidance.

I did all of this with great patience and small movements in my body focusing on pressure and release once I figured out where each calf’s “bubble” was.  Each calf is surrounded by an invisible “bubble”.  If you apply pressure to the bubble, then the calf will move.  It is important to only gently apply pressure to this bubble (especially in a situation where you are at “liberty” with no fences for help).  When the calf responds appropriately, then you release the pressure.  This pressure and release system is a good way to communicate with cattle (and horses too).

I penetrated the calf's bubble and he moved away from me and down the alley...

Watching the body language of the calf tells you when you penetrate his “bubble”.  This requires patience and focus.

The mosquitoes made a very tenacious attempt to “eat me alive” while I was up in the corn field.  I kept my focus on the calf and ignored the bugs…Slapping at mosquitoes with a flighty calf nearby will send the calf running in a “flight” behavior pattern which is virtuously impossible for a handler to manipulate.

Back in the home pen and bawling to his herdmates...He seems glad to be there...

I got home after dark, tired, but feeling a sense of accomplishment.  Who would have thought that a city kid from Florida would be able to act as a “calf whisperer”?

The second calf heading back in to the "home pen" with the herdmates that came out to greet him...

I am still moving forward, I am still praying that we will recover the other 10 calves, I am still caring, and I am still exhausted.  But, under it all, I know that I am gaining.  I know that I am a good calf caregiver.  And, I know that tomorrow will again be a better day.

Back home after a long day...

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Filed under Animal Welfare, Beef Life Cycle--Calf #718, General