July 14, 2011

Stand off Old West Style

Last night we had a stand off in one of our pastures.  The parties included were Me and my horse Coal, my husband Mark and the 4-wheeler pitted against G18 (small 1200 lb black cow tag number G18) and her calf (very small 350 lb black calf).  There is a saying that "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors".  In the ag world this saying is SOOOO true.  The bad part even when there are good fences dividing property boundaries cattle still seem to find them self on the other side of the fence.  They say the grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side.  But from what I could tell it look the same to me.  The months of June and July always seem to be more problematic to keep cattle in the correct pastures.  Mostly because it is the breeding season and bulls (male cattle used for breeding) tend to let their natural instint to find cows that are in Estrus and pass on their genetic DNA interfere with their ability to remember that they are not suppose to go through the fence to find the neighbors cows or fight with the neighbors bull and break down the fences!  Too much testosterone at 1 time can be a bad thing!!!  Well this year has been no exception we have had problems with the neighbors bull wanting to hang out with our cows instead of his own (I think ours must be more attractive) and in the process has chased our bull to another neighbors, broke down fence and we ended up with a cow (tag number G18) and her calf in yet another's neighbors pasture.  We have gotten all the bulls back where they belong and the fences fixed but have not had a good opportunity to gather our cow and calf and put them back in our pasture. 
     Moving cattle is an art.  Moving cattle easily, with minimal stress to the handler and the cattle is an art that can only be found in an expensive art gallery somewhere in New York City.  It takes practice, patients, a good knowledge of the surroundings and landscape, a keen sense of being able to think like a cow (a prey animal) not a human (a predator by nature), patients, a little luck, the right weather, patients, having all handlers on the same page in the same book, and oh did I mention patients.  Because cattle are prey animals to move them and handle them effectively we have to be able to think like a prey animal.  They have 2 responses to my presence flight o fight (both of which we worked through last night).  We use a technique called "pressure and release".  Cattle have an imaginary circle or bubble around them and when I get to close to that line they will move away from me, as soon as I am no longer in their bubble they will stop moving away from me.  Kind of like standing in line at the grocery check out, there is always the person behind you that has to stand inside my comfort zone and I want to get through the line and away from the pressure FAST!  The speed and amount of pressure that I put on the bubble will dictate how fast or slow they will move away from me.  The bubble for each animal is different.  Some cows I have to get within a few feet before they respond to the pressure (they do not see me as a threat and are comfortable with me being close) others if I am 30 feet from them that is too close.  So a handler has to be able to read the cows mind and they don't tell ya what they are thinking.  Cattle also have a balance point, this is another imaginary line that runs through both their shoulders and out to the side of them.  If I position myself in front of their shoulder they will back away from me, if I move to behind the shoulder they will move forward.  So I can move a cow forwards, backwards , left and right just by where I position myself or in last nights case Me and Coal or Mark and the 4-Wheeler.  Our goal is to always handle the cattle as calmly and smoothly as possible my applying light pressure to their bubble and then immediately releasing the pressure when they move the way we want them to.  It is like rewarding a child for being good at the grocery store with a piece of candy at the check out, but not allowing them any reward if they did not behave properly. 
Excellent Diagram of the Flight/Fight Zone and Point of Balance!!

We went late in the evening, when it was cooler.  Cattle don't like to move when it is hot, and they could over heat and get really stressed or sick.  So we head out to the neighbors and find the cows within 1/2 mile of our gate!  Excited about that because they could have been over a mile away!!  Found the cow and calf and start to sort them out of the neighbors herd and push them toward our fence.  The calf wanted to stay and play with his new friends and it took several attempts but we finally got the family headed the right direction.  We got within 2 feet of the gate and the calf decided that he wanted to go right and momma wanted to go left.  So we spent some more time getting them back together.  Cattle are herd animals and do not like be alone so we wanted to take them together.  Also we wanted to make sure that mom and baby knew where each other was and didn't go through more fence to find each other.  The 2nd attempt at the gate they stoped just a foot from going through.  Here is where the stand off began and patients and luck were going to be the only thing to help us now.  Mark blocked 1 escape route while I had the other.  And we stood still and waited.  The calf is standing with his head in the gate way looking at our cows on the other side.  Momma is standing with her butt to the gate way staring me and Coal down.  I kind a felt like I was in a gun fight in the old west just without the old dirt street, and a colt 45 on my hip!!!  We watched each other waiting for the other to draw (or move).  The cow is now hot and angry from being moved and her flight instint has kicked in over her flight instint.  Applying pressure now would only blow things up and result in an unsuccessful evening.  I think 1 of the most important lessons I have ever learned is to pick your battles wisely and only pick a fight you know that you can win with 100% certanty.  So we squared off for at least 20 minutes it could have been longer.  We waited for her to catch her breath, calm down, and realize that we were not going to chase her.  Once she calmed down we moved toward her a few inches or a foot at a time and releasing the pressure as soon as she moved toward the gate.  She eventually had backed up far enough that she and baby were in our pasture.  So I turned my horse sideways to block more of the gate way and finished pushing her away enough we could shut the gate.  Patients and good cattle handling techique (and probably a little luck) paid off and the family walked calmly down the hill and joined back up with their other herdmates.  Sorry I didn't take any pictures while we were in the stand off at the corner of Gate Street and Pasture Ave.  But I drew you a couple pictures and there is a reason I did not go to Art School!
I Know Stick Figures!!  But here we are in the stand off, guns locked and loaded!!  haha

Coal and I are blocking the Gate like Professionals!!!  Mark was getting the gate.... that is the next caption after he got off the 4-Wheeler!!  Haha

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