Are Distractions In Handling Pens the Real Reason Cattle Balk?

Temple Grandin argues that one of the biggest impediments to cattle flowing smoothly through processing facilities is distractions which, she contends, cause balking. Consequently, she advocates their

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8 thoughts on “Are Distractions In Handling Pens the Real Reason Cattle Balk?

  1. Like the article and agree with what’s there. However, I have tested the shadow thing – accidentally. Because I agree with what you’re saying I strung an electrical cord above an alley that cattle move through on the way to their scale. Our whole facility is round so I couldn’t see the reason, but I noted that day that the cattle seemed to balk for a moment before entering the Bud Box. Someone else closed the gate to the box while I returned for more cattle so I didn’t realize what was going on until I finally went up to the box to talk to the operator and unknowingly jumped a little at the snake in the alley! My horse jumped a little more than I did…. I have seen many instances of shadows having some impact at certain points.

    We handle a lot of outside cattle. I also believe that Whitt’s experience has a lot to do with the cattle he’s working being relaxed by a history of quiet handling. We find the first experiences with outside cattle to be “faster” than all the rest. The small things that we do to relax them, including the pens (thanks for the genesis of the idea Curt!), change their attitudes every step of the way until it’s a quiet deal and almost nothing sets them off.

    I’d like to ask a follow up question in the spirit of the quote in the article. I’ve run a lot of tubs and, as noted, we have Bud Boxes, technically three, in fact. I know it’s heretical to suggest, but I discovered that a tub system could work really well if I basically sat at the furthest point from the alley entrance, waved my flag a very little bit when an animal turned toward me and quit the second they turned back toward the alley, and left the tub gate as open as I could while still latching it. Same thing with loading the tub: take fewer animals than the tub could hold, let them settle in it for a second before even trying to latch the gate, and then move to my lazy spot to wave my flag – if needed. I’ve done that with tens of thousands of cattle.

    I don’t question Curt’s experience. I have tremendous respect for him. I also know we built an entire corral system that can process 1,000 head for less than the cost of just a big tub/alley so I appreciate the savings. I also wonder about the safety aspect of some Bud Boxes when you’re handing tough cattle. Ours allows us to manage them from outside the actual box if needed.

    Just a question. Would be interested in feedback. A picture of our corral system is on our website if anyone wants to critique it.

    1. Every Bud Box should be set up with open sides (so the stock can see you when you work outside the box). The proper position to work from when outside the Box is right beside the opening to the alley which will bring the eyes of the stock toward the handler after they see that they can’t go forward any more and they also see they can’t go back the way they came (because that gate is now shut). Then they see the alley opening (which is near the way they came in, so helps with the instinct of wanting to go back the way they came) and they go into it and “around” the handler. We always recommend working outside the Box with any animals which either can’t take the pressure of you being inside the box with them or which might be dangerous.

    2. In response to Chuck’s questions I’ll offer the following:

      Without a more detailed description, diagram, or photo, I’m a little confused by Chuck’s description of the process he uses to get cattle to work well through his tub. However, I think it’s great that he’s found a way to apparently work with his cattle mentally so they want to go up the chute. That’s the whole key to good livestock handling. Unfortunately, too many tub operators use them to force cattle physically through the system, which they can do with impunity with the crowd gate or poking and hot shotting them from the catwalk.

      Grandin says that tubs should be used as “pass-through” systems and that they should never be filled more than half-full. I agree. From the low-stress livestock handling perspective, it’s best to bring fewer animals than more, and bring them with some momentum so they flow right through the tub and up the chute. And there will be a “just right” number, which might only be three or four.

      If you do close the crowd gate for some reason, the proper way to work a tub is from the front using these BudBox principles: (a) cattle want to see what’s pressuring them, (b) they want to see where we want them to go, and (c) they want to go by or around us. So, where does that put us? It puts us near the front. Also, from the front you can pressure resistant animals against the crowd gate until they figure out that they can’t get out that way, and they will soon enough turn around and squirt right past you and up the chute. In that way we really get a mind change, and we’re making our idea the animals’ idea so they willing do what we want. It’s a win:win.

      What most people do is try to push cattle through a tub from behind, whether they are inside with the animals or on the catwalk on the outside. In either case, animals need to turn their back to you to go into the chute which, by instinct, prey animals don’t like to do.

      Regarding the safety aspect of BudBoxes, they definitely should have a man-gate at the entrance for quick exit if working on foot. They also should be open-sided instead of solid so you can climb out quickly if needed. With “tough” cattle, as Chuck called them, I either work the BudBox on a big, solid, horse or on foot from the outside.

  2. I loved this. We have been putting what I have learned from Whit’s articles in On Pasture to use in handling our sheep and have had good success. Thank you Whit, and thanks for those who have commented along the way. Appreciate it!

  3. Hi Nesikep,

    Whit wrote specifically about handling in the corral, but he could have written a lot more about Bud Williams Stockmanship before you get to the corral. One of the main ideas is getting the minds of the animals “right” and moving “forward” (such as with the animals Whit photographed and described above). Once that’s happening, so many other things smooth out. If you have a box, pressure the animals against the opposite side from the alley, they will go around and by you and right up the alley! If you have a tub, pressure the animals against the back of the pen they are coming from into the alley and tub so they want to go around you, then keep them moving with good movement and they will keep moving forward. Get their minds right!

  4. Have you found that cattle go uphill into something easier than downhill into something?
    Our chute is set up facing downhill, and they do balk at it…

  5. This is a great article! We, too, have tested various different distractions (including putting party streamer flags up and down the alley and driving them by billowing tarps) with the animals not reacting a bit when they are PROPERLY trained to drive and driven and then PROPERLY handled in the corral. As you said, when you look for “distractions” you are really distracting yourself from the main cause of poor outcomes, which is the handler.

  6. Good stuff! And, with one exception, just what we’ve discovered here on our small but busy teaching farm. We’ve got distractions on top of distractions here but the one thing that will make our cattle stall and get flighty is a human (of any size) in the ‘wrong’ place. “Wrong” meaning: wherever the cow didn’t expect, or disagrees with. We preach ‘calm people equal calm cattle”…..nice to see this published.

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