Tag Archives: low stress 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

Thoughts and Sights from New Mexico Indian Livestock Days

At the New Mexico Indian Livestock days I presented a stockmanship and stewardship presentation.  We had several pairs with the calves being all different ages and sizes.

This was one of my favorite and in my opinion the best format for a live demonstration.  We actually were able to simulate most of the handling situations that would happen with a cow-calf during an entire year on a western range outfit.

969114_10100186827713051_2014293616_nIn this picture I caught the calf with a long throw that he did not even see coming. I then walked with him on my horse to keep from putting to much pressure on him with the rope.  When I him laid him down nice and easy, he struggled and I applied pressure with my hands and right leg.  As soon as he quit struggling I took most of the pressure off, but not all.  He very quickly learned to relax, and was then ready to be tagged, vaccinated, or whatever else you needed to do.

I feel this is a great first interaction between human and the calf.  The calf will always remember that if he relaxes the pressure will come off.  This will prepare him to be calm in the chute his first time, if he is handled properly.

The next three photos are demonstrating getting control of an older animal, laying it down softly, and having it relaxed enough to accept what you need to do, without having its heart pounding and lungs burning. Click on the photos for a full description of what’s happening.

If you can rope the animal without running it, get it to give to the rope (this is why I rope with a slick horn, to smoothly give a little slack as soon as the animal thinks about not resisting), it will learn to stand.  I then rode a circle around the calf to wrap up his hind legs, laid him down softly and then by keeping his hind feet off the ground, could get off and hold him down.   At this point you secure the calf, and perform whatever procedure that’s needed.  Always remember to practice Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) protocols.

If you can do this type of handling slow and easy it is safe and very effective and can be low stress, however it takes practice and commitment, like all good stockmanship skills.

Hopefully we will have more photos or even some video from our mock branding, sorting, and weaning of these desert cattle.

It was a great day for me.  Horses for Heroes and the Cowboy Up program provided horses and crew.  What an inspiration!

I don’t know if the folks watching learned anything, but I sure learned so much about native traditions, their love of Mother Earth and the horse.

If you ever get a chance, go to New Mexico and learn about the traditions of the Indian.

~ Curt Pate