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The Five Basics of Cattle Behavior

Cattle are not stupid and usually do what they are asked to do. However, if asked incorrectly cattle will likely not respond as intended. When this happens we have come to rely on facilities, equipment or manpower to force them to do what is needed. This results in increased stress on cattle and handlers and results in cattle becoming more difficult to handle.

In a very simple explanation of stress… If you decide to do something it is not stressful; if you are forced to do something it will be stressful. Sound stockmanship involves convincing an animal the intended movement is their idea. Force is avoided and stress is reduced.

There are five basic principles of cattle behavior that when used properly can improve the ease and speed of working cattle while reducing stress and increasing efficiency. Those principles are:

1. Cattle want to see you. 

Understanding their vision is foundational to handler positioning and cattle response. Cattle have an excellent peripheral vision with the exceptions of blind spots directly behind (large) and in front of (small) them. When working from behind and to keep cattle from turning, it is important to stay in their sight by moving from side to side.

2. Cattle want to go around you. 

This allows you to position yourself such that, when they do go around you, they are pointed directly at the intended gate or destination. They’ll think it was their idea to go there!

3. Cattle want to be with and will go to other cattle. 

The herding instinct is natural among ‘prey’ animals. As stockmen, we can take advantage of this natural instinct as we work from the front of cattle. Start the front – the back will follow.

4. Cattle want to return to where they have been. 

The natural instinct of a cow is to return to the last known safe or comfortable place. The simple principle of the return box or “Bud Box” takes advantage of this instinct. Low-stress handlers use this to their advantage when sorting and moving cattle from one corral to another.

5. Cattle can only process one main thought at a time. 

If cattle are thinking about anything other than what you are asking them to do, change their focus before putting pressure on them.


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