Tag Archives: prey animal behavior

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