Rachel’s Thoughts on Herding Cattle

Rachel recorded this video about how she herds the cattle when she needs to gather them from a large field. As with most other skilled activities, it can look easy and natural, but that’s only the case after one has learned to read situations and developed instincts for working carefully and thoughtfully.

Transcript

Hi I’m Rachel and I want to talk about how we move cattle at Wrong Direction Farm.

Today we’re moving a small group of cattle from the large pasture into the corral. So when I do this it’s really an interesting process because the cattle are herd animals and they want to stay in a group. There are individual cattle who will sometimes go rogue and move out of the herd. And so I want to be careful not to allow too much of that straying. I want to keep the cattle bunched and I want to keep them moving in the direction that I want them to travel. So, often I’ll bring the four-wheeler out and I’ll start doing a large “S” behind them because I want them to feel just a little pressure, enough to begin to walk in the direction that I want them to go. But I don’t want too much pressure because I don’t want a stampede. Since cattle are herd animals they will follow the one who decides to put forth initiative so I want to make sure that I don’t have any of those leaders on the edges of my group. And so I’m constantly like doing this weaving pattern back and forth behind the cattle to move them in the direction that I want them to go.
We find that it’s helpful to bring up more than just the cattle that we want because cattle like feeling safe and they feel safe in numbers. So when we want to bring a group — peacefully, gently, calmly — up to the corral, say we want to bring six up ,so we’ll bring twelve up. Generally it’s Dave’s walking in front of them and I’m easing behind them with a four-wheeler or I’ll be walking behind them as well just enough to guide them up into the corral. And then once we’re in there we’ll separate the ones that we want to move to the side and then we let the remaining out. When we let the remaining out they just make their way gently back to the rest of the herd because they want to be with a bigger herd.
So we want to make sure that anything we do takes into account the cattle’s need for safety and calm. We don’t want to upset the cattle. We don’t want to disturb them in any way. It’s not safe for the cattle; it’s not safe for the humans who are working with them. So we just want to make sure everyone’s calm.

It is interesting that some of this discussion is so seasonally dependent. During the summer when the cattle are grazing small grass paddocks, they are accustomed to moving every day and they get into a rhythm of eagerly following us to fresh grass. But during the winter when they are spread across larger fields, it takes more work to round them up into a bunch and then to get them to move as a unit.

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