Tag Archives: working cattle

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