Farm Talk

Front page stories

December 24, 2013

Stockmanship and quality of life

Parsons, Kansas — “Are we putting cattle through the chute to see how fast we can do it? Or are we putting cattle through the chute to see how well we can process them?”

This was a main point made by Curt Pate at an Oklahoma Beef Council and Boehringer Ingelheim sponsored stockmanship clinic at Ratcliff Ranch, Vinita, Okla.

Pate, a Beef Quality Assurance backed stockman, talked to producers about the importance of taking a calm approach in using pressure to handle cattle.

According to him, cow/calf producers have a responsibility to train their calves to be manageable before sending them to the next step in the beef industry cycle.

“If you can get a good foundation started on a calf, he will gain better and get sick less,” Pate explained.

The Montana native teaches a “for profit” approach, one he believes should also be supplemented with pride.

“Stockmanship is a skill,” he continued. “If you’re going to be in a job or occupation that requires skill, might as well get good at it.”

Work the animal’s brain — not the animal

As he comfortably stepped in the cattle pen, Pate took a minute to analyze its contents — a handful of black yearling heifers, with the exception of a yellow crossbred. Slowly he took a step towards the cattle.

“The way we put pressure on animals, the angle we put it on, the amount, the abruptness of it — that’s what creates stress or not,” he said. “The approach is real important.”

According to Pate, cattle have a one-track mind. With too much pressure and/or too many appliers, the bovine brain switches from thinking mode to survival mode.

He stepped closer to the cattle. By this time they were standing in the far corner of the pen. Pate moved towards them, applying more pressure to the yellow heifer. She turned around to look at him.

He moved in closer, and the cattle, led by the yellow heifer, moved out of the corner past him. Again, he repeated the process, staying to the side of cattle.

“I want to get these heifers to where they aren’t scared if they don’t see me, because that’s when I can really get around them,” he explained. ”I stay to the side, because when I get behind them, I get fuzzy and they can’t keep track of me and spook away.”

Pate stepped directly behind the cattle. Immediately they began to circle.

“This happens a lot of times when we pull cattle out of a pen. We get directly behind them and they circle around because they are trying to keep focus on us and turn their head,” Pate explained. “If we can keep from getting straight behind these cattle, we’re going to be a lot better off.”

Balance Point

and Flight Zone

Traditional teachings of balance point on cattle are simple:

•Apply pressure in front of the balance point, the animal will turn away.

•Apply pressure behind the balance point, the animal will move forward.

While this is true in a working facility environment, Pate argues the balance points are different in open environments.

For example, when you sort calves off cows and move the calves down the road.

“Where is the balance point on those cows? Is it right behind or in front of the elbow? Or is it a quarter of a mile down the road, where those calves are bawling”

Pate also has his own opinions on flight zones, again advocating the use of steady pressure from different angles.

“Flight zone is a negative term. When you say you’ve penetrated the flight zone, that means they are fleeing,” he said. “I don’t ever want these cattle to think of me as a predator.”

According to Pate, humans put themselves in the predator position when letting emotions take over.

“The only time a human becomes predator is when we do things the animal doesn’t understand or we loose control of our emotions,” Pate said. “Slow it down and change that perception because cattle will pick that up real quick.”

Learning and training

For cattle producers wanting to improve their cattle handling skills and try out different methods, Pate recommends practicing with replacement heifers or young bulls. He also suggests that if producers can find the time, they run cattle through the chute without working them.

“If they’ve been processed through the chute — poked, prodded and shoved — then what’s going to happen? Are they going to want to go? If you think about it, why would they?” he asked. “If we score cattle through chute every once in awhile, they’ll learn to go through there and like it.”

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