Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lessons on Handling

Bud Williams teaches ranchers to take responsibility for how cattle behave during handling. “Were they doing it before you got there?” he likes to ask. It’s pleasant to take credit when they behave well. It's not so nice to think it’s your fault when things fall apart.

Bud has spent his lifetime handling cattle, dogs, even reindeer and elk, and makes great effort to share what he’s learned with ranchers.  Integral to his training is using your position, rather than fear or force to achieve the desired movement from the animals.  Pressuring from the side instead of from behind, working with the animal’s natural instincts, and using release from pressure to train animals are all hallmarks of Bud’s teachings.

We had plenty of opportunity to hone our handling skills this week while processing calves and the yearling heifers. The heifers are checked to make sure they’re pregnant and given vaccine and a parasiticide. They’ll spend early winter on the Fort Hall Bottoms along Ross Fork, a warm creek that provides open water for drinking all winter. It’s a beautiful spot, wild and secluded. The landlord is retired but we used his well designed working facility to treat the heifers. On a dry hill surrounded by cedars, the corrals are spare but functional, and have features I like even better than ours at home. Using a flag I could load the heifers from the holding pen into the chute from outside the pen – slick! I told Mark even an old woman could do this. And I plan on being that old woman someday. 

Mark, Gary and Jesse are a joy to work with. They’re cut of the same cloth, patient and methodical. Their quiet conversation and fluid movements keep the cattle calm. Back and forth, one after another, the cattle wait their turn, moving into the empty spot ahead of them with little angst.

After the heifers, it took two days to vaccinate and weigh the calves. We finished up just as the November full moon was rising.

Now it’s snowing and blowing, and though we feel good the youngsters are tended, we’re concerned about the mature cows still at 6,000+ foot elevation. We hope Mother Nature is gentle with us. 

 a good design makes it easy

waiting her turn

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