Tag Archives: Cattle Handling

The Draw…

Wednesday Wisdom 🙂


Scripture for today’s Wednesday Wisdom comes from Luke 6: 19

“Everyone tried to touch him, because healing power went out from him, and he healed everyone.”


The New Testament is full of stories that demonstrate the power of Jesus’s draw. His heart, full of unconditional love, worked as a magnet toward many. Two things happened on the farm this week that caused me to further focus my thoughts on the concept of the draw.

  1. I attended an educational summit on low stress cattle handling put on by the PAC Veterinary Consultants
  2. I took a group of yearling steers from the Lazy YN Ranch to our spring grass pasture by Willow Island, NE.

As a cattle handling tool, the draw acts like a magnet — inspiring movement toward something meaningful. The draw pulls cattle in a certain direction in an orderly and calm fashion. It provides an incredibly effective tool when you need to move your animals from one place to another.

Creating the draw takes a little bit of homework because it serves as an inspiration for cooperation rather than a forceful submission. I want my animals to naturally follow my leadership because this is how we are able to create a harmonious partnership on the farm. It takes trust and understanding, as well as patience and empathy.


While it is likely a bit unorthodox, I tend to draw parallels from being a cattle caregiver into my own faith. Just as I lead my animals, God leads me. He draws me in as we travel the journey together. It is a natural draw that inspires my cooperation rather than a forceful submission. As I abide in Him, we are able to move forward together.

My “cattle trail” is not a perfectly straight line, as I falter at times, but the draw seems to always bring me back. One of the things that fascinates me the most about the New Testament stories of Jesus’s draw is his ability use goodness to draw others into faith. Luke reminds us that everyone wanted to touch Jesus because of his healing power. That healing power was not just a physical one — rather it was one that also touched the soul.

  • Have you ever come in contact with someone who radiates joy?
  • Is there someone who consistently brightens your day and inspires you to mature in your perspective?

None of us are blessed on earth with the ability to physically touch Jesus, but we can receive His love and guidance through our relationship with the Holy Spirit as well as other people that we meet along the journey.

Perhaps we can all receive healing as we share God’s love together.

There is no greater gift than love.

There is no greater draw than the joy and hope that come from living in faith.

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Filed under General, Wednesday Wisdom

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…

AnneMeg.jpg

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 🙂

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Filed under Animal Welfare, 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.

feedyardsunrise.jpg

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.

fallcalvesbunk.jpg

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?”

fallcalves.jpg

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.

calfquestion.jpg

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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Striving To Always Get Better…

I pride myself on being a good cattle caregiver.  I recognize that effective care is marked by a myriad of things which ensure quality bovine health.

I believe that no matter how good I am, I can always get better.

Watching talented cattle handlers is a great way to learn...

Watching talented cattle handlers is a great way to learn…

A couple of weeks ago, my crew and I attended a cattle care and handling training conducted by Dr. Kip Lukasiewicz and Dr. Shane Terrell in Elba, Nebraska.  We went on a road trip to meet with crews from other BMG feed yards and to learn from Dr. Kip and Dr. Shane.

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Leading from the front of the herd allows for the development of confidence in the animals…

The training was a combination of both classroom time and active cattle handling.  It covered the core concepts of Beef Quality Assurance, as well as basic components of cattle psychology to help us learn to better understand the animals that we care for.

My moment of epiphany during the training came when Dr. Kip said these simple words:

We can never completely remove the stress from our animals’ lives.  Rather what we can do is to teach them how to deal with it, so that they are better able to maintain optimal health as they move through each stage of their lives.

I do not know which Anne this statement spoke the most to:  Anne the cattle caregiver or Anne the parent.  But, I do know that this is powerful advice that will continue to shape my philosophy and increase my effectiveness as a leader and caregiver.

Empowering them to play an active role in solving challenges...

Because I love them, I need to empower them to play an active role in solving challenges…

I think that each one of us, from time to time, is guilty of trying to wrap those that we care for in bubble wrap—attempting to protect them from each and every challenge that comes their way.

Perhaps we would all be better served if we also focused our energy on teaching them how to personally play a role in dealing with challenges…

While my cattle are incredibly different than my children, I am also a leader and a caregiver to them.  This necessitates a personal understanding of a bovine’s unique needs and understandings so that I can help it to learn to deal with stress and stay healthy.

They are vastly different from my children, but I still need to empower them to handle challenges...

My relationship with them is vastly different than what I have with my children, but I still need to empower them to handle challenges…

Like any human, I am challenged by the effective understanding of my cattle as my animals think and perceive the world in a vastly different way.  I must constantly attempt to view the world through their eyes in order to ensure proper care.

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I work to empower myself to always search for improvement…

I enjoy the challenge of working with animals.  They invoke a level of empathy that inspires me to greatness.  I am grateful for those professionals that help me to solve the puzzle of bovine animal understanding.  And, I look toward the future with excitement as I am constantly able to improve my leadership and caregiver skills.

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Take the Feed Yard Foodie Cattle Handling Challenge!

We look just as young today as we did 16 years ago when this picture was taken!

I come from a long line of teachers.  My beloved Grannie taught 4th grade for 40+ years, and my amazing mom is still stimulating and educating young high school minds on the art of literary critique and essay writing.  As she so eloquently states, “my students keep me young!”. I believe that interactive learning is important, so I am inviting all of you to Take the Feed Yard Foodie Cattle Handling Challenge!

My favorite 12 year old remarked last night that I had been doing too much pontificating lately..

I always try to follow her advice so, to mix things up a bit, I would like to do an interactive series looking at cattle handling.  Now, as you read this, you should not get that same “sinking sensation” in your stomach that you used to get when you forgot that there was going to be a quiz and showed up to science class completely unprepared…I will not be grading your efforts, and I promise that participating will be FUN!  However, the amount of FUN that we have will be contingent on your enthusiasm and willingness to participate (please don’t let me down here, this will only work if you all watch the video and answer the questions!).  I laughed to my husband last night that I could offer signed copies of the American Cattlemen magazine as Cover Girl to the folks that participate, but he looked at me like I was crazy so I scrapped that idea…

Participating is easy: Step 1: watch this video of the beginning of an exercising session with a group of cattle (it is about 4 minutes long). Step 2:  answer the questions listed below about the video.

Questions:

1. True or False: At the very beginning of the video, as I walk down the outside edge of the pen to the gate, I swing my outside arm back and forth to both get the cattle’s attention and move them away from the gate.

2. True or False: The cattle remember where the gate is located and are interested in exiting the pen.

3. The animal that challenges me right after I enter the pen, is what color? A. Black, B. Black and White, or C. Mousey Brown.

4. True or False: You can tell that the animal is challenging me because it knocks me over on my behind…

5. My walking pattern while working with the cattle is comprised of A. Circling or curved movements or B.  Straight lines and angles?

6. True or False: These cattle are very lazy and have no energy as they exit the pen in the middle of the video.

7. How do I respond when the cattle begin to walk past me and exit the pen?

8.  True or False: I walk directly down the alleyway behind the cattle without ever changing my angle to them after they leave the home pen.

Extra Credit:  Name three ways that these cattle are either similar or different than the cattle in the last cattle handling video that I put up a few weeks ago.  Here is the link to the last video if you missed it:

You can leave your answers either in the comment section of this post or send them to me privately via the Ask Me section of the blog.  Next Tuesday’s post will talk about both the video and the answers…Have FUN!

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Filed under Cattle Handling Videos starring Feed Yard Foodie!, General

Hands that care…

Between Archie's and my hands there is 80 years of caring for cattle...

There is a country western song entitled “Daddy’s Hands”, and it frequently comes to mind while I am handling cattle.  The chorus goes like this:

Daddy’s hands were soft and kind when I was right…Daddy’s hands were hard as steel when I’d done wrong…Daddy’s hands weren’t always gentle, but I’ve come to understand…There was always love in Daddy’s hands.

One of the most important things that I will teach my girls is to have love and respect in their hands...

I am a very structured and “no-nonsense” type of person.  I develop priorities and goals, I set rules, and I live my life by them.  My children may not always like the decisions that I make and the rules that I set, but they respect them.  The boundaries are clearly defined.

I use the same philosophy with my cattle.

As a good leader, I try to make “the right thing the easy thing” when I ask my cattle to do something.  This limits stress and increases the value of our communication.  This does not mean that I let my cattle do whatever they choose—that would be detrimental to both my safety and the safety of the animals.  I need for my cattle to do what I ask them to do.

There is a phrase that is used in  Natural Horsemanship which is three simple words:  “Ask…Tell…Promise…”

I begin by asking my cattle to do something—depending on the cattle and the refinement of our communication system, sometimes that ask is so light that it takes almost no pressure at all.  If the ask does not receive any response, then it becomes a tell which uses more life and pressure to elicit the desired response.  There are occasional times when neither the ask nor the tell gains the needed response, and then I must promise my animals that they will respond.  A promise takes even more life and pressure.  Cattle learn through the release (of pressure), but the pressure gains their attention and causes the movement.  A good communication system is marked by consistency.  Animals find comfort in good, consistent, and firm leadership (I have found that my children do also!).  This allows for learning to occur.

Archie will Ask, Tell or Promise these calves to move into the processing area---depending on how the calves respond...

Bill and Tom Dorrance (two of the early natural horsemen) talk about a concept of life in the body and feel in the communication between the leader and the animal.  When I ask my animals to move for me, I increase the life or the energy in my own body.  The cattle will feed off of this increase in life in my body and respond with an increase in energy and movement in theirs.  This feedback of information and energy flowing between the leader and the animal enables a feel and a communication to develop.

This is a concept that I find absolutely fascinating.  I have a friend who trains horses (and horse owners) and she named her business “Heart In Your Hand Horsemanship”.  When you put your “heart in your hand”, then your leadership is sincere and comes from within.  That gives your communication feel and life and makes it effective because it is on a level that a calf or a horse can understand.

Megan and I taking a break after loping (cantering) our horses in the pasture. Megan is learning how to use her life, focus, and feel to subltly communicate with her horse.

It is important to remember that my cattle have the physical advantage over me.  They weigh anywhere from 5 to 15 times as much as I do and can run and maneuver more quickly as well.  I must be firm and consistent in my leadership— my personal safety and the safety of my animals depend on it.

This is one of Calf #718's herdmates and he weighed over 1400# when he was shipped to harvest...

Sometimes my feel is “soft”…sometimes my feel is “strong”… but it is always firm and consistent.  Most importantly, my hands are filled with leadership, love, and respect.

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

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

The Gathering…

Our farm has many different components to it.  My husband farms crops on about 3000 acres in the Platte River Valley, I care for close to 3000 animals in our cattle feedyard, and we also have some “grass pasture” where we graze cattle during the summer months.  We typically graze the pasture from the middle of April to the Middle of June, and then again from the middle of August to the middle of October.  Our grass is “cool season grass” so this allows us to get the most effective grazing rotation.

Megan (my nine year old) and I love it when we have cattle down grazing at the pasture because we love to ride our horses down there.

Getting the horses ready...

It is an added bonus when we get to check the cattle while we are down there riding.  This week it was time to gather the heifers and bring them into the cattle feedyard to finish for harvest.  So, Megan and I loaded up Magnum and Dandy and headed down there last Sunday to move the cattle onto the piece of pasture where the corrals are located.  This is the first time that Megan has gotten to help gather cattle at the pasture and, needless to say, she was pretty excited!

After we got the horses ready, we opened the appropriate gate and went searching for the cattle. Megan helps me quite a bit at the feedyard handling cattle, but we do most of this on foot.  It was new for her to gather cattle and move them while on horseback.  As we set out, I told her the rules…

  1. Megan beginning to group the cattle...

    Watch the cattle so that you can read their body language and effectively communicate with them.

  2. Try to do all movement at a WALK.  The easiest way to move cattle is slow and steady.
  3. Keep the cattle gathered together and moving as a herd.
  4. Remember to use alternate pressure to influence the movement of the herd.
  5. Whatever happens, stay calm, use your brain, and focus (don’t get distracted).

“The gather” went wonderfully.  It was like a beautiful and coordinated ballet.  I was so proud of both Megan and the cattle (and the horses too!).  The cattle gathered nicely and walked in a straight line for several miles

Trailing down toward the gate...

before coming to the gate.  Megan displayed wonderful patience and focus as we approached the gate, and gave the cattle the time that they needed to figure out what they were supposed to do.  She did a great job “taking the time it takes to do it right”.  It was a tremendously successful morning—not only did we get the cattle gathered and moved, but my daughter also got to practice being an “effective leader”.  One of those “life lessons” that comes with caring for animals and living on a farm—hopefully one that she will keep close to her heart!  Now, if I could only

Watering the horses after the gather is finished...

get her to focus that well when I ask her to clean her room…

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