Tag Archives: humane cattle handling

The Final Days of Summer…

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.

Trailing cattle down the alley during a dawn exercising session...

Trailing cattle down the alley during a dawn exercising session…

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Calm cattle under good leadership walk in straight lines with positive energy.
  4. Consistent and confident handler behavior makes learning easier for the cattle.

    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…

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.

One last moment of rambunctious joy before loading in cars to head to the first day of school...

One last moment of rambunctious joy before loading in cars to head to the first day of school…

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.



Filed under Animal Welfare, General

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

The Leprechaun…

We left the house at 5:00am Sunday morning to drive to Lincoln so that my favorite 10 year old could play in the Cornhusker State Games Volleyball Tournament.  As usual, I took my lap top along so that I could write blog posts while Matt drove (it is 2 and ½ hours from our house to Lincoln).

Megan’s team did an awesome job and finished 2nd place!

As we headed east along I-80, I asked my family what I should blog about this week.  My two favorite smart alecks (age 40 and age 12) replied “Leprechauns”.  As I stared at my husband and my daughter with a surprised expression on my face, I was informed “Yeah mom, you know, leprechauns demonstrate that short people can still make a difference!”

Well, anyone that has met me knows full well that I am “short”.  In fact, the smart aleck twelve year old that was riding in the back seat and pontificating about leprechauns is already several inches taller than I am.  As a result of her superior height and vast middle school experience, she already believes herself to be omniscient. Being fully aware of this, I am actually very pleased that she thinks that I “make a difference”.

My favorite omniscient 12 year old…

Making a difference is one of my life-long goals.  This desire drives me each and every day, and is one of the reasons that I have chosen to open my farm to all of you.  As I work tenaciously to offer good care to my animals and raise safe and healthy beef for you, I also recognize that there are thousands of other farmers who spend their days the same way that I do.  I want to not only make a difference in the lives of my animals, but also inspire others to dedicate their lives to raising food animals.

I love to eat beef. Without cattle farmers like me, a great tasting beef dinner would not be possible…

I had a visitor come through the feed yard last week who teaches in the Animal Science Department at the University of Hawaii. He smiled as he watched me move new cattle out of the home pen and down to the corral to be vaccinated.

The sight caused him to reminisce about the majority of his students (young girls of city origin destined for veterinary school) who are afraid to work with large animals.  He remarked, “you are living proof that a smaller woman can care for and handle large animals like cattle”.

I have been told that I look like a “little peanut” up on my horse…

Perhaps I appear to be a leprechaun as I train and handle my cattle on foot?

Yet, the effective and appropriate care that I offer to my animals has nothing to do with magic.  It is based on understanding, empathy and leadership.  What I may lack in brawn, I make up for in brains.  I feel that one of the most important things that I do is to mentor others in their quest to humanely raise cattle for beef production.

Good care makes for comfortable animals and safe and healthy beef…

I love it when people visit my farm with a desire to learn.  Sharing ideas and experiences creates a unique pot of gold that benefits all of us in our quest to make a difference! Now, if I could only convince my two darling smart alecks to be a bit more respectful toward their favorite “height challenged” difference making leprechaun want-a-be!

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Filed under Animal Welfare, General

Cattle Handling 101…

Well, it is a good thing that I became a feed yard manager instead of a teacher!  Although it appears that some of you watched the video, only four of you took the interactive challenge.  Many thanks to Robert, Carol, Sherry and Bill for taking the challenge!

Last weekend, I was bemoaning to my husband the fact that my cattle handling videos do not seem to interest very many people—to this comment he replied, “Well, you need to tape the videos in your swimming suit instead of your coveralls.”  While that is an interesting thought, I believe that my years of living in a bathing suit have passed me by.  Handling cattle in a bathing suit would also go against my feed yard safety policy which requires long pants and boots.

20 years ago...

Even though the interaction part of Thursday’s post did not garner great participation, good cattle handling is such an important part of the care that I offer to my animals that I would like to take a few minutes to comment on the video…

At AL Ranch before shipping to my feed yard...

The cattle in the video came from AL Ranch.  Those of you that remember my long series of posts tracing Calf #718 last summer will remember Al and Sallie Atkins (if you missed the series of posts you can find them under the Calf #718 topic archive on the home page).  The cattle featured in the video traveled from AL Ranch to my feed yard a couple of weeks ago.  I had my husband film the beginning of the 3rd day of acclimation for the cattle.

On the 1st day of acclimation, this group of cattle were very sensitive, and I was able to send them to the back corner of the pen before even opening the gate.  They had calmed down significantly by the 3rd session, and so it required a little more energy and pressure on my part to move them away from the gate.  I walked down the bunk line swinging my outside arm with energy in order to get their attention and get them to move away from the gate.

Question #1 was True!

While I want to teach my cattle where the gate is so that they exit the pen easily, I do not want to train them to simply run out of the gate every time that it opens.  This is why I asked the cattle to move away from the gate and toward the corner of the pen before I asked them to leave the pen.

Question #2 was True!

If I had not placed some pressure on the cattle when I entered the pen, then they would have immediately left the pen—they both remembered where the gate was and were interested in leaving!  By the last day of acclimation, the cattle’s interest has changed and  they would rather stay in the pen and just wait for breakfast.  At that point, I know that the animals have attributed comfort to the home pen and I have been successful in acclimating them.

Question #3 was C. Mousey Brown!

Shortly after I entered the pen there was one animal in particular that wanted to go directly out of the gate.  I had to remind the animal a couple of times to move with the group instead of going off on her own to exit the gate.  It is very important for me (as a lone handler) to encourage my animals to move as a group.  If they do not all go together, the flow of the cattle is disrupted and it makes my job as handler very challenging.

Question # 4 was False!

While the video may have been more entertaining if I had been knocked down on my behind by this animal, that is not what occurred.  You could see, however, that I had to move fairly quickly one time to make sure that I redirected the animal toward the herd.

Question #5 was B. Straight Lines and Angles!

If you watch my movements carefully, you will see that I walk in straight lines and move in angles toward the cattle to create alternating pressure that moves the cattle in the direction that I want them to go.

Question #6 was False!

These cattle (once I let them go toward the gate where they wanted to go) have a lot of energy and move very quickly.  They have quite a bit of impulsion.  If you remember back to the last cattle video that I put up, one interesting contrast between the two sets of cattle was their level of impulsion or energy.  While the first pen moved more slowly, this pen of cattle from AL Ranch moved with a higher level of energy.

Question #7: I calmly walked away from the cattle and then applied alternate pressure as needed to manage the flow of movement. This allowed them to leave the pen with confidence.  With a group of animals that have this much energy and desire to go somewhere, once you get good movement it is important to back off and remove the pressure so the cattle stay in a learning frame of mind.  It would be easy to overstimulate cattle of this nature.

My goal is learning and communication which results in organized movement.  While the pressure is what moves the animals, it is the release that allows them to learn.  The amount of pressure that is appropriate to use when handling cattle will change with each group of animals depending on their genetic nature and their prior cattle handling experiences.  It also changes during the acclimation period as the cattle begin to learn and become more comfortable with the handler.

Question #8 was False!

I move in a zig-zag pattern behind the cattle as they trail down the alleyway.  This is an alternate pressure movement (pressure and release) that encourages the animals to continue moving in a straight line.  Cattle are unable to see the area directly behind them, so as I move in a zig-zag pattern they can see me out of the corner of each eye which allows for consistent communication.

Sharing my passion with Megan--the next generation of good cattle handlers!

My husband and children remind me frequently that I tend to be a bit long winded when I get on the subject of cattle handling.  It is a subject that I love.  I hope that my passion is contagious—otherwise you probably quit reading about 500 words ago!


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

Movie Night With Feed Yard Foodie…

A long way from the Lily Pulitzer clothes that my mom used to buy me...

It has been a while since I posted a video clip from the goings on at the feed yard…

The YouTube video link below shows me taking cattle out of the pen for an exercise session…

If nothing else, it has probably been a while (for most of you) since you saw a short lady in coveralls handling cattle…My fashion sense seems to have changed a bit…




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