Wednesday, May 29, 2024
HomeLivestockBehaviorOutsmarting Wild Cattle - Part 2

Outsmarting Wild Cattle – Part 2

The cattle business can be hard on your self-esteem. It’s tough when in spite of all your schooling, knowledge, experience and success, you get outwitted by an animal that poops in its food. This is happening to me a lot less frequently now that I have been through a few years of learning the hard way. Below are some of my tips and advice for dealing with smart, ornery cattle. (This is Part 2 of this 3 part series. Read Part 1 here.)

Receiving New Cattle

When receiving new cattle, always put them in a hard-sided corral that can physically contain them if they make an attempt to go over, around or through it. Don’t unload new cattle into a polywire enclosure or a fence with wire that is difficult to see from a distance. If cattle come off the truck at a run and cannot see a fence in time to stop, they won’t stop. Even cattle trained to polywire may run through or jump it due to stress and being unfamiliar with their surroundings.

I planned to unload my heifers this past spring into a woven wire enclosure with two strands of polywire around the inside. The trucker who delivered them advised against this, because from the road, the woven wire was invisible. To panicking cattle running off the ramp, it would look like there wasn’t even a pen there. I went to Lowe’s and bought a bunch of 1”x4” boards, and wove them through the wire so the wire held the boards up. This looked like a three-slat wooden board fence, highly visible from a distance. It held the heifers for their first few days as they got trained to the polywire, then I let them out onto pasture.

Meg’s corral set up before she adapted it for use.

Teaching Cattle to Respect the Fence

Here’s how I straighten out cattle that don’t respect a single strand of polywire. First, your perimeter and the polywire need to be very hot. I’m not happy with anything under 8 kV and 10 or 12 kV is better. I set up multiple strands of polywire offset from one another. The first strand will be only a few inches off the ground. The second strand will be on the middle of a step-in post, and the third strand will be on the top of a step-in post. Each strand is on its own set of posts, and each set of posts runs 12 to 18 inches behind the previous one. The lowest strand is closest to the cattle. I learned this offset trick from a deer hunter who used it to protect his food plots. Animals may think they can jump multiple strands if they are all on the same post, but the offset strands mess with their depth perception. Animals can’t properly judge the jumping distance and are discouraged from trying to jump.

When my first group of new heifers arrived in 2016 and promptly jumped two strands of polywire on the same post, I changed to using three offset strands on three sets of posts to contain them. I chased them around 180 acres until I got them down in that 20-acre bottom, then trapped them down there with the offset poly. After a few days, I started squeezing them down with two wires on the same set of posts until I got them down to normal paddock size. After they obeyed two wires for a few days, I went to one wire. As long as you keep the wire hot, use highly visible white temporary fence materials, and don’t starve or panic the cattle, you shouldn’t have problems. When left alone and not stressed, cattle will test and become afraid of polywire.

Rounding Up Loose Cattle

I can’t imagine trying to run my operation without polywire and cattle that respect it. Here’s my squeeze-down strategy for catching paddock escapees that are still inside the perimeter fence. (Luckily I have not had any cattle escape my perimeter!) Use polywire to exclude the areas of your farm that the cattle are not on. Keep putting up new wires closer and closer to the escaped cattle, until you have squeezed them down to a reasonable paddock size. If you are trying to get them in with another group, squeeze them up to the boundary of the paddock in which the herd is. Then remove the wire separating the cattle, letting them all in together.

Meg’s bull, Gil, just before she let him out. and didn’t see him again for a couple of weeks.


I used this strategy to get my bull in with my heifers this summer. When I delivered my newly-purchased bull to my property, I dumped him into a large paddock where the herd was not within his sight when he got off the trailer. I figured he would find the herd, because nothing can keep a bull away from females, right? Well he didn’t find the herd, and within ten minutes I couldn’t find him either. I had to keep the herd moving through fresh grass, so the bull got left behind. He didn’t resurface for weeks. I didn’t know whether or not he had jumped the perimeter and left my property entirely. Finally I saw him again. I put up a polywire far behind him, trapping him into a 20-acre bottom, then let the herd loose in the bottom. Over the next week, I tightened the herd back down to normal paddock size.

The bull is back with the heifers.


Next week I’ll cover corralling and loading a herd using temporary working facilities.

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Meg Grzeskiewicz
Meg Grzeskiewicz
I graduated from West Virginia University in 2012 with a degree in livestock management, and a minor in agribusiness. While at WVU, I won a statewide entrepreneurship competition with a patentable device I designed for video-assisted cattle artificial insemination. I then spent six months interning for grazing expert Greg Judy in Missouri. Now I run Rhinestone Cattle Consulting, helping new and experienced farmers build profitable mob grazing beef operations. I offer artificial insemination, electric fence building and graphic design services too. I'll travel anywhere in the 48 states for on-farm consulting and speaking at conferences.


  1. Richard and I have read these first two articles with interest. There are a wide variety of handling methods, and most folks manage to do the things they need done with their animals. However, if you are wanting to not only get the task done but get it done while also having the best production from your animals (which, if you are a for-profit ranch, should be one of your main concerns) then using Proper Stockmanship (as taught by Bud Williams) is one of the best methods. Paul did an excellent job of describing the main points of Proper Stockmanship and how they will allow you to get the job done as well as have productive animals.

    Tricking with feed or calling; trapping with water, mineral or polywire; and/or scaring/forcing are techniques everyone is familiar with and can figure out and use pretty easily. However, once you learn how to work WITH and properly communicate WITH your animals, you won’t need any of those crutches, and your animals will be happier and healthier. Also, back to one of the points in the first article, you will not have to worry about breed differences because you will be able to handle ALL types and classes of animals (including sheep, goats, pigs, reindeer, elk, etc.).

    Just the other day our bull breached the perimeter fence and wound up in our neighbor’s field with his cows (one in heat) and his two bulls. In the space of two hours, Richard drove the entire group back and forth, training them all to take pressure and understand what was going on until he was able to sort our bull off and drive him to and through the gate between our two properties. Polywire, feed, calling, or forcing were NOT going to work in this situation. The ONLY method which worked was using Proper Stockmanship. Not only did we get our bull back, but the neighbor’s cattle will now handle a lot better for them!

    If you are interested in learning more about these techniques, visit or

  2. Hi Paul,

    Your point (broken record and all :-)), that LSLH is a great skill to
    develop, is well taken. I agree with you. At the same time, I know that it can take some time to get up to speed, and we all need work arounds until we get there. That’s why I asked Meg to share her experience and the solutions she created on the fly this year because I think they’re very helpful to others struggling with similar issues. I want to leave us to be ok with not being perfect and to share helpful tools to use along the way.

    Thanks to all for a good discussion!


  3. So will off-set polywire set up on 36″ or 40″ step -in posts as you described deter even deer from jumping? No need to build a 10′ tall deer fence?
    This is great news for my young friut trees!

  4. It will probably seem like I am trolling Meg on this, and maybe I’ll get banned for life from this site for sounding like a broken record (for those who remember what a broken record is, sorry millenials).

    First, the most important thing is that you got the job done with the cattle. We all have to be creative and willing to do what it takes to get things done. Second, you have the guts to write about your situations you have dealt with, and share your solutions with others.

    However, I have to ask, what happens if the cattle do get out of the perimeter fence? Will you have enough polywire and posts to snake it through a half mile of trees?

    There is another method to handle this situation without needing polywire, and the same method/s will help you settle newly arrived livestock so that they don’t challenge your fences. It will also help you take the stress off them so that they start eating and gaining right away. My guess is that you are probably not interested, though.

    • I have been lucky, never had cattle outside my perimeter. So my knowledge and advice at this point ends at the perimeter. Please do explain your polywire-free methods for settling cattle in. You seem to have a lot of advice on this topic, maybe write an article for OnPasture?

      • Meg,
        I apologize if you took my comments the wrong way, as I didn’t mean to imply that polywire and step-in posts aren’t useful in certain situations. They are. And, the off-set polywire method works really well–I’ve used it myself to create temporary corrals or holding areas.

        I learned about the offset polywire from Dr. Walter Goldstein at the Michael Fields Institute, who uses it to keep deer out of his corn test plots. I figured if it works for deer it should work for cattle, and it does.

        I can see where the temporary holding area made with the offset polywire on step in posts should work well for for bringing in new cattle, as well. I have just used a larger holding area with 3-4 wire high tensile for the same purpose. You can use corrals or long alley ways, as well. Regardless, it’s the process of settling cattle that is important.

        Once cattle are settled they are less inclined to challenge fences. That happens because you help them get them in the right state of mind, meaning that; they realize you are not a threat, they realize that they are in a good place with food and water that is secure. Also, during the process you start teaching them to take pressure, and to learn that pressure also has a release. At the same time, you can start training the bunch quitters to stay with the herd.

        I will briefly describe the process that I use, but please remember that I learned by attending schools taught by Bud Williams and Steve Cote, and followed up that training with more training, so I don’t know that you can learn this just by reading. I didn’t. That said, Bud always said that he learned by observing how his actions affected livestock, and learning from observation is the most important skill you can develop.

        First, before you do anything with the newly arrived cattle, get your mind right. Livestock will pick up on your stress levels, worry, anxiety, fear, anger, which will stress them further. Fortunately, livestock will also pickup on positive emotions, as well. Bud always said to “smile and mean it,” when working with stock. It took me a long, long time to grasp that, and the value of doing so.

        The thing is, when we are in a good mood others, people and cattle pickup on that, and it is calming and they start to shift their mood, as well. When we are in a good mood, our minds are more agile, and we make better decisions. I would like to think that livestock are the same way, as experience bears this out.

        Interestingly, an experiment done with sheep found that when the sheep were given the option of going through two different gates, one with a lifesize cardboard cutout of a man smiling next to it vs one with the same man frowning, the sheep preferred the gate with the man smiling.

        I get anxious during some cattle handling events, so I’ve learned to think about what causing that, but then let that float on down the river of thoughts, and instead think about doing the right things, observing, adjusting, and enjoying the moment. It makes all the difference.

        I mention all that first, because if you don’t get that right, the rest won’t work well.

        When the cattle are in the holding area, I pressure them, from outside the area, to walk to the other end. Then I pressure them out of the end to turn and walk to the other end. I keep doing that until they will walk by me calmly without paying much attention to me–if they are picking up the pace as they go by, we keep at it.

        I only use whatever pressure is required. Some cattle are calm, and take more pressure, some cattle are flighty and take very little pressure. With calm cattle I usually get into the holding area with them and pressure them directly out of the ends. With flightier cattle I pressure them from outside the holding area. Those flightier cattle may not need any pressure to turn around at the ends, and may come back on their own. I just walk with them then, slowly, just enough to pressure them to the other end and to turn around.

        Again, I want them to eventually, calmly walk past me. This process will take time. 15-20 minutes sometimes. If you are in a hurry, or impatient, it wont work.

        By the way, if cattle are moving too fast, at first, you can often slow them down by walking parallel with them. I use that method anyway to train them to slow down, and stop.

        If there are herd quitters in the bunch, take a step or two back when they leave the herd, and let them come back to the herd. Give them a little time to adjust and realize that the herd is a safe place to be. Then pressure the group again. It may take a few times for them to get the idea.

        When cattle will walk by you calmly their minds have realized that you are not a threat, that this is a safe place to be, and they can relax. The next step is to let them drift, or walk casually to their feed, don’t pressure them into their feed area. You want them to calmly put their heads down and start eating. When they do this they are focused on one thing, food, and that means the stress is off, they are not thinking about getting away, and they eating, so they will start gaining, and not get sick.

        Again, that is a brief description of the process. I don’t have time to describe how I pressure cattle. You would learn if you attend any of the stockmanship schools taught by Hand & Hand Livestock, or Steve Cote, or Whit Hibbard, Dr. Tom Noffsinger, or Lynn Locatteli, who have all learned from the late Bud Williams. I don’t get kickbacks or anything by promoting these people. I just want graziers to be at the forefront of good stockmanship–please don’t assume that just because you really care about your livestock that you will automatically know how to handle them. Make the investment to learn these methods. I guarantee you will not regret it. You will enjoy working with your livestock so much more.

        Also, Steve Cote has a good book, called, “Stockmanship” which you can find for free onine–just google it. He is also coming out with a new book, soon, that is more in depth on certain subjects.

        Lastly, I’ll think about the article on getting cattle in that have escaped the perimeter. I’m not sure you can learn to do that from an article, because I didn’t, but maybe I can provide some tips that have helped me (ie. your mindset, as mentioned above, is essential).

        Eventually, your livestock will escape and you will need a way to deal with them. It happened to me the first time when an early ice storm struck and toppled trees and branches on my fence, and spooked cattle, the night before hunting season. I had one group of cattle that ran over a mile away. They were Galloways, and at night some people mistook them for bison. The sheriff put out a standing order to shoot them. Talk about an anxiety provoking situation. Needless to sayI got them in, without polywire, but that’s a story for a different time.

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