Tag Archives: psychology

Pick Your Battles…

Last week while I was moving cattle, I had a calf try to crawl through the feed bunk into a neighboring pen.  I adjusted my angle to the calf and encouraged him back to the rest of his herd mates.  Part way through the interaction, my cowboy became aware of the situation and starting barking orders at me and “loving Pete”.  I chose to ignore him as I had the situation completely under control.

AnneMeg.jpgMy favorite blonde cowgirl happened to be along that day and later asked me why I just quietly continued to move the calf instead of responding to my cowboy’s criticism.  I summed it up in three words, “Pick your battles”.

She looked pretty perplexed with my response so I decided that it was a good time to share a well learned life lesson.  I asked her, “Megan, did the calf respond appropriately and do what I asked him to do?”  As she nodded her head affirmatively, I pointed out that the goal was accomplished so there was no point in creating drama with my crew.

There are many kinds of leadership – passive, active, verbal, and non-verbal.  In regards to cattle handling, I choose to lead by example.  Cattle move best in situations where the handler maintains mental composure.  As the lead handler in this situation, it was in the calf’s best interest for me to continue to interact calmly.  I know my cowboy well (we have worked closely together for 20 years), so I also recognized that ignoring him while completing the task correctly was the best choice.

Sometimes it isn’t about who is right –

It is about completing the job well and doing the best thing for the animal.    

Over the last two decades, the words pick your battles have circled through my head tens of thousands of times.  Whether it is interacting with my own crew or sitting in a meeting with other folks involved in raising beef, I think that one of the most important lessons is learning when to speak up and when to bite my tongue.    I discovered a long time ago that life isn’t about pride and personal affirmation; it’s about doing the right thing to create positive improvement.

  • I am anal about cattle care.
  • I am passionate about always trying to be better tomorrow than I am today.
  • I stubbornly stick to my values even when the right thing isn’t the easy thing.

But, I have come to understand that meaningful change occurs when my idea becomes someone else’s idea.  Sometimes the best way to make that happen is to let my actions speak and keep my words where they belong – inside of my mouth…

Megan got awfully quiet at the end of our conversation, and I could tell that she was looking at the situation with my cowboy from a different perspective.  Perhaps the next time someone “yanks her chain” and she starts to fight back, she will stop and remember the art of picking your battles 🙂


Filed under Animal Welfare, Family, 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.


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

What makes a leader?

Last week I asked for reader feedback as to what were important human qualities for “prey animal leaders” and “caregivers”.  As I compiled the answers that I received, I noticed a few things: 1.The answers from all three commenters had the same feel to them, 2. The qualities named also make good leadership skills for people, and 3. Since only three people commented, I must be intimidating!

Let’s recap those qualities…

  1. Put the wellbeing of others ahead of your own needs.
  2. Cow Time, Cow Think, Cow Motivation, and Cow Watching—all of these require using empathy and understanding in order to place yourself in some one or some calf’s “world”.  Do you understand how a calf (or other person) thinks and accept that it is not the same as the way that you think?  Do you understand that cattle have no sense of “time” or “schedule” (come to think of it, two of my daughters do not either!)?  Do you understand what motivates the calf or the person?  Can you watch and observe others (either calf or human) in order to figure out “what makes them tick” and how they interact with others and the world around them?
  3. Find joy in what you do and in the beautiful outdoors that you are blessed to live in.
  4. Your brain is the most important tool!  It can overcome challenges of all kinds.
  5. Be calm
  6. Be confident
  7. Be consistent
  8. Be firm (the boss!)
  9. Have focus
  10. Get creative instead of getting frustrated or giving up.

I have found over the years that my experience understanding and handling cattle (and horses) has really improved my ability to handle people because it has improved my empathy toward others as well as my ability to “think outside the box”.  If you have ever coached a t-ball team comprised of  five year old children, I am sure that you can recognize the importance of many of the qualities listed above!

One more thought for the day…I read the book Coming Back Stronger by Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints quarterback) last year.  It is a fabulous book and has many really great quotes in it.  In the book he states that one of his favorite quotes is, “Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying”.  Do you lead with your mouth or do you lead with your actions?  An interesting question to ponder…

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Filed under Animal Welfare, General