Low Stress Handling to Lead Cattle to New Pastures in Intensive Rotational Grazing Systems

by Temple Grandin


More and more ranchers have learned that leading or calling cattle is one of the easiest ways to move cattle into a new pasture (paddock) or to bring them into the corr als. However, it is essential that cattle movement be controlled so that they walk into the next pasture in an orderly manner. This prevents the calves from becoming separated from their mothers. If the mothers run quickly into the next pasture, calf productivity may suffer. Below are some tips on how to train cows to move in a controlled manner.

1. Cows Come When Called

Train the cows to come when they hear a horn or a voice call. They should not start moving when they see a person or vehicle. It is stressful for calves when the cows follow a vehicle around a pasture when it is being used to fix fences. To train the cattle to respond to the horn or call, beep the horn or do the call and then immediately put feed out. During initial training, the cattle must be able to see feed being put out within one second after the “beep” or call. After the animals have learned to associate the horn or call with food, they will come when called from the other side of the pasture.

2. Train Cows to Move at a Walk

There are several methods that can be used to train the cows to move at a walk when they are being switched between paddocks. One of the most important places to control movement is when the animals pass through a gate. Some ranchers control movement by calling their cows and making them stop before the gate to the next pasture is opened. Others stand at the gate and use flight zone principles to slow down movement through the gate. A third method for controlling movement is to lead the cattle with a vehicle, horse or a person walking on foot. Some ranchers have their cows so well trained that they can lead them through several pastures before they get to the destination pasture. The animals have learned that they will be led to a placed with better feed. To prevent running when they are called, the rancher drives, rides, or walks to the area where most of the cattle are located before calling them.

3. Teach Cows Manners

A bunch of hungry cattle pushing and shoving around a person can become dangerous. Cattle have to be taught that pushing on people or grabbing feed off the back of a four-wheeler is not acceptable. Several ranchers have had success training their cows to stand back and wait for the feed to be dumped out. One method to teach manners is to hit the ground with a stick if they push forward, and tell them “No.” DO NOT hit the cows. They do not get the feed until they stand back and remain quiet. Some herds are very tame and the animals like to have their backs scratched. The cattle must be taught that they must never push on people. If they push, stop stroking within one second after they push. The reward has to be withdrawn within one second so that the animal makes the association between pushing and stroking being removed. Do not stroke the forehead as this encourages instinctual butting behavior. Stroke the shoulders, back, neck and under the chin. Holding a feed treat up high and getting a cow to point her nose up toward the sky puts her in a submissive posture that will discourage and reduce butting. There are a few animals that may never stop aggressive, dangerous pushing and mobbing. Some of these may need to be culled and removed from the herd.

4. First Experiences with New Things Must be Good

To encourage cattle to come into the corrals and to move easily through the handling facilities, they should be walked through the chutes (races) and fed treats after they pass through the headgate. Some ranchers train their yearling heifers to move through the race. When the heifers become mother cows, they will help lead the older cows through the system. Ranchers have to do procedures that are stressful to cattle, but the animals will be easier to handle in the corrals if their first experiences in the corrals are associated with feed and calm, quiet handling. Taking the time to walk calves and yearlings through the handling system with feed rewards will produce adult animals that will be easier to handle.


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