Tag Archives: importance of feel in cattle handling


Lets talk about feel.  I have been asked many times if feel can be taught.  I don’t know, but I see people with quite a bit of feel, so it’s learned by some.

As I stated before, to me feel is applying proper pressure in the proper amount.  That seems like such a simple explanation for such an important concept.  Simple can be very complicated unless you keep simple, and that is the reason these things are difficult to teach.  Those that learn feel keep it simple, those that don’t make it complicated or can’t control emotion.

Pressure is what creates a reaction in an animal.  The type of pressure, the amount of pressure, the proximity of the pressure, the awareness of the animal,and how familiar the animal is with the type of pressure effects the reaction of the animal to the pressure.

Pressure creates a stimulus to the brain of the animal from its vision, hearing, or actual physical contact of the body.  I also have experienced times when the animal can seem to read the intent of another animal or human, and this is a pressure that should be examined as well.

Here’s my simple cowboy way of looking at how the brain works.  It has two sides.
One side is the thinking side of the brain, or if we are talking in terms of livestock we should call it the “gain” part of the brain.  The other side is the reaction side of the brain, and we will label it the “shrink” side.  When cattle are on the gain they are healthy and much more likely to be profitable.  Livestock on the shrink are unsettled, unhealthy, unhappy and usually unprofitable (looks like it should be the “un-side” of the brain).

Animals on the gain think about the kind and amount of feed and water they need and have the space and time to consume it.  If other animals are present that make it “think” it is safe and creates social comfort, this will help keep the animal on the gain side of the brain as well.

Animals on the shrink have unfamiliar or excessive pressure put on them which causes the brain to go to the reaction side.  If this pressure lasts it can put the animal in another state of the brain which is survival.  This is the worst place for an animal to be and it is my goal to always keep any animal from reaching this state of mind.

The environment outside of the body creates the environment inside the body.  The main defense grazing animals have is to move away from danger or what we call flight.  The amount of fear the pressure creates is what can put the animal into survival mode.  If the brain switches to survival mode the animal needs all its energy for flight.  “They load ‘er light, bind ‘er tight, and head ’em for the swamps,” as my old friend Steve Mitchell used to say.

The brain sends signals through the body with cortisone and adrenaline to increase blood and oxygen flow to the heart, lungs, and legs to increase the ability to run away from danger. Any thing that takes energy and is not needed is put on stand by or shut down.  The immune system takes a bunch of energy (remember how you feel before you get a cold).  There is no need to fight off pink-eye or BVD at the moment, if a grizzly bear, or a human that acts like one is trying to get you. This is the danger of excessive pressure too often for too long.

The environment inside the cow also has predators and they are waiting for an opportune time to attack. These are pathogens and bacteria and other things I don’t know the names of.  I look at the immune system like a county sheriff.  If he has good deputies and they are all on the job, the county has very little crime.  If they have a disaster from mother nature, big predators like fire, tornado, earthquakes or flood, they shut down the crime immune system and help people in the survival mode.  This is when the pathogens of society attack.

Hopefully this will get you to thinking how important it is to keep an animal on the gain.  This is why it is not only important to get the cattle to do what you need from a handling stand point, but also from an economic and ethical point of view as well.  The amount of feel you use with your type of pressure affects immediate and future gain.

Every experience the animal has with pressure effects how its brain reacts to pressure.  If the animal learns to take pressure he is on the thinking or gain side and will get better to handle over time.  Pressure without feel is excessive and creates shrink or survival mode. Over time this will create animals that are hard to handle and, if driven to survival mode, can become very dangerous.

No matter how good you are at handling livestock, the next person that gets to handle it may not be as handy. The situation and area it is being handled in may require an animal that is trained to take pressure and think its way through the situation.  If it has been taught to handle with feel, it will be much easier to get it done safely while keeping the animal on the gain.

If we all learn to handle our livestock with FEEL it will solve many problems.  That’s what Stockmanship and Stewardship is all about.

So, whatever method you use to get livestock from point to point, make sure you use feel and keep ’em on the gain.

Curt Pate