Low Stress Cattle Handling

clinic taught by Lauren Schuman

These are my notes from a clinic on handling and herding cattle , taught by Lauren Schuman. She gives seminars on low stress handling for beef cattle all over the country. Low stress handling is old news to dairy cattle handlers but it is a new enlightenment for many in the beef industry with its tradition of yahoo cowboysim.


(Pam Green's clinic notes, copyright 1994)

Lauren Schuman's ranch is in Humbolt county : very steep, boggy, & timbered. Plenty of places a horse can't go but a cow can. Lauren gives clinics on "Low Stress Cattle Handling, " a concept long practiced by dairy cattle handlers, but a new revelation to most beef cattle handlers. It is also highly relevant to trial competitors.

"Wild" unruly cattle are mostly caused by humans. Treat 'em rough and they'll become wild. No breed is inherently hard to handle --- (implied : prejudice that breed is hard to handle can cause handler to be rough and thus create problems).

Gathering cattle on horseback. Lauren prefers to ride as close to cattle as they will allow before sending dogs. She wants to be able to see if there are problems, e.g. a downed cow or a calf on wrong side of fence (separated from dam). When on horseback, your position vis a vis cattle is the same as it would be on foot.

Flight zone. Flight zone becomes small in cattle that have been handled well and a lot. Some breed differences , but also substantial individual differences obvious in demos. E.g. individual who Lauren said had longer flight distance and would jump fence at provocation soon proved Lauren correct !! (Pam's note : for many trial cattle, the flight distance from the human handler will be much larger than that from the dog !)

Separation anxiety. Beef cow must produce and raise a calf every year (to be economic). She gets used to handler's efforts to separate her calf off from her for treatments, weaning, etc. Brama and Brama crosses have stronger flocking instinct, more upset at being separated. In demos, noticed substantial individual differences in tolerance of individuals towards being separated from herd.

Cattle eyesight : Cattle are fish-eyed, with depth perception that is very different from human. Cow lowers head in order to see better, i.e. to see things on or near ground. E.g. will balk at shadow on ground, then lower head to inspect.

Cattle have 2 blind spots : blind dead ahead &blind dead behind . Cattle are apt to kick if startled from blind behind spot. If you are in blind spot, either move to side to "catch eye" or else make a bit of noise --- e.g. Lin's trick of slapping your thigh, or Greg's trick of snapping fingers, or talk to cow --- or light tap from a lightweight longer-than-kick-distance stick.

Pinkeye, caused by fly : inflamed eye. can lead to damaged or even blind eye. Stressed cow is more vulnerable.

Cattle like to circle. Therefore pens are better without square corners; chutes should be curved, etc. (Question : is fondness for circling related to blind spot ahead and behind? I.e. all perceived influence would be from side rather than dead front or dead rear, thus tending to cause some degree of turn.)

When cow is relaxed : chew cud, lying down, not shitting. If you handle cattle calmly, you'll have a fairly clean corral : less shit and less loose sloppy shit.

Light stick as handling tool. Lauren likes a hawthorn stick : very light but very strong --- and growing in plenty on her ranch. She uses it as an arm extension, thus saving herself steps when moving to influence (especially to block or turn) cow. Can use it to give a rap on nose to stop a determined cow or bull from charging through you --- or if momma gets aggressive when you handle newborn calf.

Cattle's hearing. very sensitive to high pitch. Whip crack sounds painful to cow. Again, note use of slight noise (light slap, finger snap, talk etc) to get cow's attention.

Sense of smell is very good. Especially used to find calf. Cow leaves young calf lying down in safe spot while she goes off to graze. (Note -- unlike sheep , where lamb follows grazing dam).

Cattle social hierarchy is very important to understand. Sit and watch your herd and study the interactions, so you can understand hierarchy. Herd on the move will move best if cows are in right positions relative to social rank. The frontmost cow is not the most dominant: front cow is usually midrange in dominance. The middrank cows take turns at front of herd. The really dominant cows will move fairly close to the front , behind the leaders, but not at the front. The lowest ranked cows bring up the rear.

Very young calves haven't yet learned to go with the herd. May remain behind ---- till momma charges back and runs you over seeking calf. May go in own direction. Note : very young calves are a nuisance when you are moving a herd. When moving herd with young calves, each time you and dog approach calf, drop dog down and go ahead yourself to get calf moving into herd; then bring dog up. Dog near newborn will cause whole herd to rally to defend calf. Mommas can tolerate handling by a known trusted human, but will aggressively defend calf from dog.

Bulls get harder to move as they mature. Will protect harem and block their movement.

Individual balance point : Best position to influence cattle to move foreword is to be at about 45 degree angle to shoulder --- i.e. handler is to rear of cow and an imaginary line from handler to cows shoulder is about 45 degrees from line of cow's spine. (and of course this would also be the right position for a dog relevant to cow.)

Herd balance point. Herd on the move has a herd balance point, somewhat diffuse. The driver should be positioned about 45 degrees off the herd balance point. (similar to being 45 degrees off shoulder of individual cow.)

Use of force (grip, hotshot, etc) : Lauren emphasized that almost all cattle handling can and should be done gently and calmly. There are only rare occasions for the dog or handler to use force. When used, as for a "correction" in any training situation, the timing of application and relief are critical.

Grip : if you work cattle correctly there is only rarely any need for dog to bite. Lauren is quite happy if many months go by without a grip. "what never? well , hardly ever !" " i.e. yes, there are times when a grip is helpful or needed but they are damn few.

Hot shot : on the rare occasions that Lauren uses a "hot shot" (cattle prod) , she will first tap the cow several times without shock while verbally asking it to move, and then if the cow has not responded, she gives a brief shock. Next time the cow will move from the tap and verbal hint.

Stick : may occasionally need to use to give rap across snout to an overprotective mother cow.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 3/06/04 revised 3/06/04
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