Tag Archives: low stress cattle handling

Proper pressure

My focus this week is working with bulls. For those of you that don’t work with livestock, I think the same principles apply to people handling. I challenge you to think of handling humans with proper pressure for better results, and hope by reading this it will get you thinking about how to work better with all things with a mind.

The subject this week is proper pressure. When working with bulls not applying and using pressure properly will result in negative results quicker than any other class of cattle.

There are many things to consider when working with a single bull. The distance you work from the bull should be determined by the bull. If you try to work the bull to close and keep the pressure on he will get agitated or find someplace to keep the pressure off (i.e. going in the brush). If you are hesitant, and work to far away the bull will learn very quickly that he is in control and can control the handler.

Most bulls are thicker and more muscular than other types of cattle and can’t bend as easily as others. If you get behind them they can’t see you as well and can’t bend so they either stop and wait for you or they turn and look at you. Either result is negative and creates the need to reapply pressure to start the process over.

You should start the pressure from the side in an area the bull can see you without bending its head and move towards the bull at an angle that keeps the head pointed in the direction you want it to go. You will also need to step forward at an angle that will keep the head pointed in the desired direction. If the head turns, step back immediately, then step forward at the given angle and speed the bull is indicating will work. This is reading the bull. He will tell you what to do if you are observant and can think about what to do at the right moment.

The more you work with a single bull properly, the better he will be to work. You are communicating to the bull that if he moves you will not put more pressure on than he can take. If you work a single bull properly and enough, he will learn to work, and not get as agitated because of this training.

When working a group of bulls it is much different than any other group of cattle. Fighting is the problem. When one bull challenges another bull it causes the bulls to have their minds on the other bull. The other bull puts much more pressure on than the human can safely do so the handler can’t do much until the fighting stops. If you get to a spot that you can get the bulls attention, it is very dangerous because one bull running from or being pushed by another is very fast and hard to get out of the way of. The first few times you handle a group of bulls they will have to have some time to work things out amongst themselves. If you don’t have time and space it can get dangerous. Once the bulls get things worked out, they will be good to handle if you pressure them properly.

By teaching bulls to understand pressure you will actually teach them to fight less, because they have learned to respond and move away from pressure. This relates to other bulls’ pressure as well. It will not eliminate fighting, but reduce it and make it easier to stop once it has started.

From my observations it is very important to learn how to teach bulls to work. Safety is the main reason, productivity second. If you are a professional, these things are important. Make the time to train bulls to work. If I was selling herd bulls I would train them to load in a stock trailer out in the open. This would be so valuable for the purchaser, and would force the herdsman to teach the bulls to take pressure to get them to load. Just an idea …

I purchased a bunch of bucking bull yearlings from D&H Cattle Co. a few years back. One of the bulls was a great looking bull but real mean. He was trying to hook the horses when they were bringing them in and when I was feeding would try to hook me when I was taking strings off the bale. I challenged myself to change him. He still gets on the fight if he gets to much pressure, but he seems to enjoy being worked properly and likes to be around me. I really like this bull. He taught me a lot on how to work with an animal that is on the fight.

curt rides cow 2

Curt and the bull named “H”

I can pick his feet up and and scratch him all over, but I am very careful about how I approach him and move him. I like the savvy old saying, “Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.” Now those are words to live by.

~ Curt Pate

Be quick, but don’t hurry

This subject is by special request from Bonita Lederer, who does a great job improving beef quality in the state of Nebraska. Thanks for the idea and three really good days.

When we think we are in a hurry, we act like we are in a hurry, and when we are in a hurry it can increase the chance of a problem occurring.

When we do things with no motivation for completion or quality it can also create problems.

I often hear people say, “The only way to work cattle quickly, is slowly.”

This is a good saying and many people would benefit by slowing down a little. The problem is that just by slowing down, you won’t be successful. As a matter of fact, you may make the problem even worse.

I think a better saying would be: “The only way to work wild cattle quickly is slowly and work gentle cattle faster to be quicker.”

I learned of a saying by John Wooden from my friend Bill Dale “Be quick, but don’t hurry”. That’s a good saying that fits most things in our fast paced lifestyles.

The thing we need to figure out is if we are working for quality or speed. Just because you are doing things fast does not mean it is the best quality of work.

I hear all the time stories of how many trucks people load in an hour, how many calves they got branded in just two hours, or how they preg-checked so many cows per hour. It may be better to talk about how many head walked on the truck without hitting a hip and how well they rode on the trip because they were loaded properly. It may also be better to focus on how we followed good Beef Quality Assurance practices, how safe it was, and how easy it was on the calves at the branding.

When we talk about pregnancy checking the cows, we may focus on keeping the cows calm and flowing through the chute smoothly and allowing the person checking them to halve a calm animal for safety and accuracy. We should also talk about taking enough time to make an evaluation if the cow should be kept or not, whether or not to put the cow on a different nutrition program, or whether she should be culled.

It is not how fast we did it but how well.

A good comparison may be the event of barrel racing. I have been watching barrel racers for a long time. I even married one. Sometimes I even study what makes a good barrel horse that consistently wins.

Barrel racing is a timed event. That means the fastest time wins. Not the fastest horse, but the one that is the most efficient at all aspects of the component parts of the three barrel pattern the horse navigates without breaking the pattern or knocking down a barrel. You could take the Kentucky Derby winner and match it against a pony that has been trained properly to run the barrels, and the pony would be the favorite and the racehorse the long shot.

The reason the pony would be the winner is because he is trained to transition from one task to the next. The race horse has only one part of the barrel horse skill and that is to run fast. When you ran to the first barrel and tried to make the transition to gather up and make a turn, the race horse would probably brace his neck, take hold of the bit and run by the barrel like it was not there.

The pony may only be able to run half as fast a the racehorse, but can be collected and make a smooth turn. The key word is smooth. When I see winning barrel runs they usually have smooth transitions.

I hear all the time when working with animals time should not matter. If you are a barrel racer and you need to win to keep doing it, time is important.

A better statement may be to take the time necessary to train animals so we can work them smoother, in less time when needed.

Some barrel racers rely on equipment, mainly bits, spurs, tie downs, martingales, and lots of repetition of drills and patterning of horses. They win sometimes, but knock quite a few barrels over, run by the first barrel, and the horse always seems to be under stress, even when standing at the trailer or being hauled. This type of horse is under stress and even if he is a winner, the horse has more chance of injury in and out of the arena, will colic more frequently, and does not last as a winner.

The barrel racers I have watched over the years that have had consistent champions that last a long time, are really not barrel racers at all, but excellent horse trainers that understand how to get a horse working through transitions in a smooth and calm manner that creates quick times consistently without much stress on the horse.

I have many that I have admired over the years, but Sherry Cervi really seems to understand how to keep a horse calm and healthy, yet consistently win for a long time. The interesting thing is when you watch her you never are sure if she is going to win because she is so smooth in the transitions it does not seem like she is going to be fast.

Now lets compare handling cattle to the different barrel racing scenarios.

The racehorse is like cattle that are wild and have no stop to them. It’s easy to get them going but you can’t control the movement. If you try to stop or turn the high spirited race horse he will run away with you. It takes lots of room to get him under control, as well as high levels of skill to keep control. Race horses are worth more money than any other horse, but if they can’t run they must learn to stop and turn or they will be of low value. We don’t have race cattle, so if we want to improve the value of them we need to train them to stop and turn and work calmly, to be able to work them in less time in an effective manner.

If you look at the cow-calf sector of the cattle industry, we resemble the barrel horse trainer.

The cow-calf producer needs to take responsibility for preparing the calves for working in a time sensitive manner. From the first contact the human has with a calf, the way a calf sees his mother react to the human, and the way the calf is handled on cow outfits are the foundation for all the reactions the calf has to his handling for its lifetime.

We don’t have to have wild acting cattle. You can go to all different environments, all different sizes of operations with all different genetics and find good or bad cattle to handle. It’s how they are trained.

When we don’t train our cattle we rely on physical methods of force such as helicopters,
motorized vehicles, or horses to get animals into traps. Then we use equipment to force them into smaller traps so we can force them to do what we should have trained them to do in the first place.

This is the same as the barrel racer that uses lots of gimmicks. I am not saying they are not winning. They may seem to get more done quicker and win more at first, but the farther they go, the problems start showing up. I see the gimmick trainers sell lots of horses when they are young. They sell them to people new to the barrel world or the ones that only care about winning at the moment. In these cases, the rider’s ego won’t let them see how much stress the horse is under and the gimmicks won’t keep the horse sound. Before long the gimmick will lose its effect.

You even see some of the exact same problems. Cows that won’t go in the corral, horses that won’t go in the arena. Horses running through the bit, cows running through or by horses and people. Another problem is lifting the front feet off the ground and leaping. The horse rears in the air, the cow jumps the fence. The reason for all these problems is the animal is not able to take the amount of pressure that is being applied.

If you break barrel racing down into its simplest form, it requires a horse to go in a straight line at the speed required to be able to make a transition to balance itself to turn as quick as require. Then it must quickly get straight again to repeat this process but this time turn in the other direction. The rider’s job is to communicate with the horse to make these transitions as quickly and smoothly as possible. Having the proper equipment to communicate is very helpful. You could teach the horse to run the barrels with no saddle or bridle, but it would increase the time it takes to run the barrels, and it would require much more training and skill from the human. I am pretty sure it would also increase the stress on the horse.

If we compare this to the jobs we do with our cattle, it requires the same simple things from the bovine as with the barrel horse. We must communicate with them to go in straight lines, slow down and stop, and be able to turn them left or right. We need to prove to them we are not a threat to their survival, so we can be close to them to get them to do what we want. The barrel racer has the use of body position in the saddle, plus the use of the reins and bit to communicate and support the horse to get it to perform the maneuvers we require to get the job done as quickly as possible.

A good barrel horse trainer uses the proper equipment to communicate with the horse. It does not require force, pain, or leverage, unless the horse has bad habits. Then you may have to use some force to overcome the pressure the animal has learned to use as self-defense.

Draw reins, tie downs, and tools like them are similar to wings on fence lines, baiting cattle into the corral, or getting more people to get cattle in. You may have to use these methods in extreme cases, but not every day and not for very long.

When a animal is trained to work from pressure applied properly, they learn to think their way out of pressure quicker and with more confidence. This allows a skilled handler to work them much quicker than a untrained animal, with less chance of problems and stress.

When our beef animal leaves our operation, he will at some point be asked to work in a hurry possibly at the auction market, the stocker pens, or the feed yard. If you have not trained him to work and think his way through pressure you are causing problems for the animal, the people that are working the animal, and the person who trusts the beef industry to treat our animals with care and integrity.

When I go to an auction market and watch the cattle being handled, it is amazing how some of the cattle work through the system and how little stress these cattle are under. Then in the next pen the cattle really have a hard time making it and I would imagine they may have some health and gain issues in the future.

The cattle that were handled properly before the got there could think their way through the situation. The cattle that were not ready or had bad habits had to be forced.

We need to get good at the cow-calf level at being a good cattle trainers. Like a good barrel run, a good cattle working has many rewards, some financially, some in quality of life rewards.

When I go watch a barrel racing it is the same scenario. One horse has a great time, the next not so good a time. The winners are happy, the losers make excuses, and some may look for another gimmick.

You can be fast and work fast if you have the skills and the animals have learned to take and think through pressure. Lets get to learning and training.

Be quick, but don’t hurry!

Curt Pate

VIDEOS: Stockmanship & Stewardship on ‘The Angus Report’

TAR_Stockmanship_02If read the post from yesterday, you know that Curt was recently on The Angus Report, along with fellow stockmanship expert, Ron Gill of Texas. The episode aired on RFD-TV this morning at 7:30am CST. Luckily for those of you that don’t have RFD-TV, the episodes are also available on YouTube for you to view! You’ll find all the videos from the episode (Parts 1-4) embedded in this post below!

Enjoy and let us know what you think!

Jesse Bussard

‘The Angus Report’ Explores Stockmanship on Aug. 12

Tune to RFD-TV Monday at 7:30 a.m. CST to hear from experts Curt Pate and Ron Gill.

TAR_Stockmanship_02Most cattlemen would agree that proper animal handling is a top priority. But how does that translate into everyday tasks on the ranch? The Angus Report, a 30-minute news program geared toward cattle producers, leads that discussion at 7:30 a.m. CST (8:30 a.m. EST) next Monday, Aug. 12 on RFD-TV.

During the special episode, The Angus Report’s Crystal Albers is joined by renowned stockmen Curt Pate and Ron Gill. Both experts host livestock handling workshops around the country on behalf of the checkoff-funded Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program.

Curt Pate“To me, when you are in charge of caring for an animal, it is our duty to give that animal the best care that you can – no matter what,” Pate says. “If we look at it from a profit standpoint, it makes it so much easier to implement that good care.”

The BQA program outlines 10 keys to effective cattle handling, and The Angus Report shares tips on each of those guidelines. The experts also explain the economic benefits associated with low stress animal handling, including a stronger immune system, increased rate of gain and higher conception rates.

Proper stewardship can provide a safer environment for those working on the ranch, as well: “When we improve the welfare of the cattle, we also improve the well being of the people working the cattle, so it all ties together,” Gill says.

The Angus Report airs at 7:30 a.m. CST each Monday on RFD-TV, which is distributed by more than 625 cable operations, and can be found on DirecTV channel 345 and Dish Network channel 231. Check local listings for more information. To learn more or to watch segments from past shows, visit http://www.ANGUS.org.

This episode of The Angus Report is brought to you by your beef checkoff-funded BQA program. To learn more about your Beef Checkoff Program, visit MyBeefCheckoff.com. To learn more about cattle handling and care, visit BQA.org.

For more information on The Angus Report contact, Jena Thompson, assistant director of public relations, at 816-383-5100 or jthompson@angus.org.

For more information about Angus cattle and the American Angus Association, visit http://www.ANGUS.org.


This seems the perfect time to discuss my thoughts on timing.

If you have read some of my previous thoughts on pressure being what causes animals to do the things they do, and the amount of feel we apply this pressure with, then the timing of the pressure is the next logical thing to talk about.

If the timing of the pressure is correct and the proper type of pressure for the situation is used, it will work. However, the correct pressure at the wrong time may have little to no effect, or even a negative effect.

Timing may be just the opposite of feel in the aspect of learning. Timing is easy to teach or demonstrate, but very hard to learn. The more things going on, and the faster the pace,the harder it is to have good timing.

Timing has to do with the mind of the handler and the animal. The brain can only think of one main thought at a time. This is why it is so dangerous to drive while texting or trying to read a map. Your timing of driving your car is thrown off, and you will apply the pressure to the brake, steering wheel, or gas pedal at the wrong time. When a person has perfected the motor skills of driving and does not have to have complete concentration on thinking of what to do operate the car, the driver can carry on a conversation with another person in the car. I don’t know about all states but in some if you are driving a semi truck and are talking on a cell phone without having your hands free it carries a heavy fine. Timing is very important, mainly thinking ahead when driving, especially when it is hard to stop.

Livestock seem to be very single minded. The first step to proper timing is to get the animals mind in a state to take pressure. If the pressure startles the animal, depending on the animals temperament, it could cause the animal to react more than is necessary or in a negative way. Startle a sleeping horse from behind and you may get kicked or slam the door on a pickup truck with a pen of flighty cattle, and while you are limping around or building fence, it will give you time to think about improving the way you time your approach.

The way you go about changing the mind of the animal to your pressure is key to how well the animal will accept and respond to the pressure. Once the animals attention is on you, the timing of how much pressure and the kind of pressure you use is also very important to not only get the animal to do what you would like it to do, but also keeping it doing it. You must become more important than every other stimulus in the environment, but not scare the animal because of too much pressure. If we go back to the driving scenario, it’s like someone who is real jerky on the gas pedal, goes real fast, then slams on the brakes to stop fast. The smooth driver times the pressure and release of pressure with the flow of traffic and terrain of the road. The smooth stockman does the same.

Most animal abuse is caused by improper timing of pressure. When excessive pressure is applied and an animal can’t or has no place to get away, this is abuse. Improper timing can create a response in animals which creates the need for excessive pressure where it would not have been needed if the animal had been trained properly.

So here is the order I think one should take when moving livestock …

Try to approach from an angle and speed that lets the animal discover your pressure before you penetrate the flight zone. When you get a response, it is important to immediately change your pressure, to reward the animal or reassure it that you have feel, and to get it thinking out of the pressure. The timing of this is so important. The closer you make the change in pressure to them thinking about it, rather than physically doing it, the better the timing.

Once you find the pressure zone that creates movement then you can change the angle of the pressure to create direction. You may be wrong in your estimations and this is when you time your change of pressure to get the direction you want. By your timing of pressure and also the real ease of pressure, the animal is learning to take your pressure and work for you, while you are learning the best way to work with the animal to keep it on the thinking side of its brain so it gets easier to work.

No matter if is a herd of livestock or one animal, I treat it the same way. With one animal I get movement that fits the situation, then try to point the nose where I would like it to go. With a herd it is important to get proper movement, then establish direction with the lead animals with out stopping the movement of the herd.

When I help people starting and riding young horses the thing I always found myself saying to them was, “You’re late.” This is the challenge with learning timing. With animals if you don’t apply the pressure or release it at the proper time, they can’t reason it out. They are in the moment.

When you are learning. you don’t want to make a mistake, so you try to decide or think of the best option. By the time you think of all the things to do, then make the decision to implement it, you are late. So you try another set of options, then you are really late.

With real gentle cattle you can get by with thinking in the pressure zone, but the more sensitive the animal is the less time you can be in the wrong spot if you are in the pressure zone. You should step back out of pressure, quickly regroup, and then step into pressure with the new plan. If you make smooth positive movements, not quick jerky moves, the animal will respond better.

This is why I say timing is easy to teach, but hard to learn. You can be told all the right things but the only way to get experience is from mistakes made, then learned from.

The more advanced you get at handling livestock the better you can use timing to get better results. You time the change of pressure with the physical balance of the cow or the shape of the herd. When trying to load a steer in a trailer or up a lead to a chute, if you position yourself properly to apply just enough pressure to get him to see the opening, as he looks at the opening you increase the pressure at the proper time and amount. To early and he won’t be lined up to go up the chute. To late and he may choose another option. This is when proper timing really is helpful in animal handling.

Here’s a simple example of timing:

A few years back I was watching the rodeo in Missoula, MT. After the rodeo I was on the track visiting with a real good steer wrestling horse trainer that I was college roommate with. He was on his bulldogging horse and the fireworks started to go off. His horse just stood there and we watched the fireworks. That’s pretty good to get a steer wrestling horse to just stand there when fireworks are going off. The fireworks had been going on for a few minutes and a barrel racer came running across near us saying to Steve (Blixt), “My horse is tied to the trailer.” He never even hesitated but said, “You’re late.” Her timing was way off.

I really feel timing is the one thing that you always need to keep working on. All the physical things you do are only helpful when you time them right. The way to get better timing is to do things and then analyze the result to check your timing. If you never think about and remember what worked your feel and timing will be off. By analyzing performance we create balance, and that will be next weeks topic of discussion.

~ Curt Pate


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