Home Livestock Behavior Low-Stress Livestock Handling “Dance Steps”

Low-Stress Livestock Handling “Dance Steps”


Kathy’s Note: Ever since I attended a Bud Williams Low-Stress Livestock Handling workshop, I’ve thought of the process as a kind of dance where the livestock are my partners, and we use body language to get where I want them to go – them watching mine and me watching theirs. Whit Hibbard has been sharing these steps with On Pasture readers. Now, here are some more for you to practice on the pasture dance floor. (To see the whole series so far, click here.)

In a prior article I introduced some of the techniques of low-stress livestock handling (LSLH) as formulated by the late Bud Williams, emphasizing the importance of maintaining straight lines, then explaining the “zigzag” which is an effective technique for driving cattle from the rear. In this article I look at the remainder of the basic techniques of LSLH.

The “T”

Need a refresher on the Zig-Zag. Click here!
Need a refresher on the Zig-Zag. Click here!

We use the zigzag to generate movement from the rear, but how do we establish direction? To get animals to go in a particular direction we zigzag behind them at a 90 degree angle to the direction we want to go. In other words, a “T” to our target. If we zigzag in a T to the direction we want to go, it (a) keeps us in straight lines, (b) clearly communicates to the animals what we want, (c) creates effective pressure, and (d) keeps us from being in the wrong place and doing the wrong thing. In essence, it clearly communicates which direction the animals should be traveling and it drives them to that destination. It also keeps them in a normal frame of mind and makes our idea their idea so they willing move away without the use of force, and in so doing they experience a release from pressure.

So, for instance, to get a group of cattle out of a corral, we can drive them out from the rear if we work in a straight line perpendicular, or a T, to the gate, with the “zigzag.”



To slow animals down that are going faster than we want we parallel them (rear to front or tail to head) within their pressure zone, which is the area between the outer edge of their flight zone and the point at which we have no effect. As we pass each animal’s balance point, its attention shifts to us, and it will slow down, or even stop, to let us pass on by. This movement is helpful if we need to slow animals down that have too much movement, but it is very detrimental if we are driving a herd which, unfortunately, conventional stock handlers do all the time without even realizing it.



What if we need to speed animals up? What do we do? Conventional stock handlers tend to up the pressure in the rear (e.g., by making more noise or siccing the dogs on ‘em). It is much more effective to speed animals up by going against their direction of travel (front to rear or head to tail) within their pressure zone.

This works because as an animal sees us coming towards it, and since it wants to avoid the pressure it feels, and continue in the direction it is already headed, and be in a herd and follow other animals, it will hurry past us as we enter its pressure zone.


The “In and Out”

Another useful technique for speeding animals up is to pressure into their sides. Since they want to avoid pressure they will step ahead if we are behind their balance point. Also, they really want to go in the direction they are already headed and follow other animals anyway. After you pressure in, however, it’s very important to release pressure after the animal responds which does two things: It rewards the animal for doing the right thing and it allows, even draws, the next animal to come forward.

So, for instance, this technique is very useful for facilitating movement of animals up a chute during load out, or out of a crowd pen, or through a gate.

Backing up

To slow or stop an animal, like one that turns back in an alleyway, what do you do? Most people step in front of them. Much to the chagrin of cutting and reined cow horse people, we should never step over in front of a cow to stop it because it’s counterproductive. Why? Because blocking an animal increases the pressure it feels so it wants to go back even more, and if we step towards it we are actually telling it to go past us because that’s a reverse-parallel movement.

What we should do is back up. Backing up a step or two is a great way to relieve pressure and to slow or stop an animal that wants to break back.


A very simple but effective technique is simply rocking back and forth from foot to foot. It is used (a) to stop animals that are coming at you, (b) to turn animals that are looking at you, or (c) to drive them ahead (especially in confined areas, like in an alleyway). In the first instance, you need to hold your ground or back up a little if they are coming fast. In the second instance, you need to slowly inch your way forward to apply enough pressure to turn them. In the third instance, you need to advance as fast as the animals are moving to maintain the same distance from them.

The “45”

According to Bud Williams, “To get a good result you must work at correct angles, and one of those angles is the 45. Animals like to be pressured at a 45 degree angle.” The 45 degree angle is used in two basic ways. First, to get animals out of corners. Second, to drive animals, especially along a fence, by using a forward angle. With the forward angle you pressure in at 45 degrees which drives the animals forward, then you go straight out to the side which does two things: It puts you in position so that you can come back in to pressure again, and it allows you to guide the lead (i.e., keeping them going straight down the fence).


Stepping aside

Stepping aside tends to draw animals past you, and is particularly handy when sorting.


Here are all the steps from this lesson:


See the Steps in Action Here:

See Low-Stress Livestock Handling In Action



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Whit Hibbard
Whit is a fourth generation Montana rancher who spent aobut 38 years handling cattle conventionally before making the paradigm shift to low-stress livestock handling (LSLH) as taught by Bud Williams. For the past 10 years he has studied and practice LSLH, and shares his knowledge in clinics, onsite consultations, and articles. He began publishing the Stockmanship Journal in 2012. It is the definitive source for quality information on stockmanship. Though the importance of stockmanship is becoming well recognized, until this Journal, there was no professional publication addressing the subject. Hibbard began publishing the Journal in January of 2012 to provide a consistent and efficient way to share information on stockmanship, and to serve as a forum for open, intelligent and informed dialogue. The Journal is a means for improving the level of discourse and the discipline of stockmanship. It is published twice a year in electronic form and includes articles written by experts in the field.