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Training Cattle to Follow – Part 1

By   /  November 27, 2017  /  5 Comments

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Several readers have asked for instruction in teaching cattle to follow. John Marble has written a t
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  • Published: 4 years ago on November 27, 2017
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  • Last Modified: March 26, 2020 @ 10:17 am
  • Filed Under: Livestock

About the author

John Marble grew up on a terribly conventional ranch with a large family where each kid had their own tractor. Surviving that, he now owns a small grazing and marketing operation that focuses on producing value through managed grazing. He oversees a diverse ranching operation, renting and owning cattle and grasslands while managing timber, wildlife habitat and human relationships. His multi-species approach includes meat goats, pointing dogs and barn cats. He has a life-long interest in ecology, trying to understand how plants, animals, soils and humans fit together. John spends his late-night hours working on fiction, writing about worlds much less strange than this one.


  1. Patrick Tobola says:

    Thanks for sharing this with us.

    I would like to emphasize a couple of important points that you made for someone who wants to use this method. First you should use the feeding time to build trust with all of the animals and to teach the animals to behave as a herd. They all need to learn to move together and all come to the hay before you start teaching them to follow the hay and then they all need to be taught to follow the hay. This is especially important with pairs. Second, when you start to train them to follow and later come to a call they should come calmly and wind up at a walk. It’s ok for young animals to buck and play and trot a little. Many people make the mistake of training their animals to come excitedly at a run to save time when moving them. This is not good for the animals and can lead to some undesirable behavior like rushing to a gate when they see you enter a pasture. It can also result in young animals becoming separated from their mothers during moves which can lead to other problems. I think the safest thing to do to prevent this is to be relatively close to the animals when you first start to train them to come to the call and then close to them when you start training them to follow a call (like you stated in the article) so you can control their speed as you lead them and only then try to call them from a greater distance if you want to train them to come to you from a distance. One other thing that is probably important is you should put out enough feed and in such a way that all of the animals can comfortably get at least a taste of the feed and not be frantically searching and fighting over a few morsels. If you will use something like supplement cubes, you may need to feed more of it at a time and spread it out more so all of the animals can get to it and remain calm.

  2. jason detzel says:

    this is a great piece and i love how you worked the principles of operant conditioning into the discussion

    I do have one thing to say. I am the owner operator of my ranch so the cattle get used to me really quickly (consistency is key to the relationship). Occasionally I have to go out of town and another person will do my chores. I ask them to wear a baseball cap like I wear so the cattle don’t notice form afar that things are amiss.

    The other thing I do is train the cattle to a non verbal call. My animals are used to my wacky call but others have a hard time reproducing it. By having a bell or a mechanical noise, the employee can utilize the tool and keep the moves consistent and as stress free as possible…unless you lose the bell in the field like I usually do by mid summer.

  3. red says:

    Cow bell hung on the truck to call them works. Better than Dad when he was a kid, calling milk cows out of the brush. He and the neighbor kids yodeled at them (Pennsylvania, oh my 🙂 Tho the cows all grazed one unfenced pasture, the cattle always went to the right kids. Good article and a Merry Christmas.

  4. Chip Hines says:

    Like most ranchers and farmers I had a call to cows for feed in the winter. After I got my fencing set up for planned grazing and the cows knew what was going on, I decided to try the winter feed call. It worked!

  5. curt gesch says:

    I’m glad to read that even if one’s voice–like your grandmother’s–deep and gruff it can work to call cows. For a minute there I thought I had to learn to sing soprano.

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