Happiness is Being in the Herd

Whit Hibbard has great way of explaining the mechanics of Low Stress Animal Handling. If you haven’t read his articles yet, here's a link to the Special Collection of his On Pasture articles. It wil

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12 thoughts on “Happiness is Being in the Herd

  1. Tom, thank you for the article.
    We would like to try a hair sheep and cow herd on a year around basis.

    Do you have a guard dog for the sheep in the mix?
    Happy trails, Mike

    1. Hey Mike. We had a guardian when we first started then let her age out once the sheep were truly bonded to the cows. I did read an article in another magazine talking about a fellow in Colorado who did not use dogs because his sheep were bonded. It think it depends on your predator pressure. I do know, though, because of neighbours etc, it is a lot easier running without guardians. Good Luck! Remember, there is no try, only do!lol

      1. Thank you Tom.

        Our cows are Corrientes. They are protective.

        The reason we haven’t yet given the hair sheep a go is we weren’t sure we wanted to deal with a guard animal and having it get along with the cows. Most folks here in southern Missouri use guard dogs.

        There is a neighbor who is using a llama.

        No try, only do or do not. 😉

  2. Have you tried that with a breed of sheep that does not flock as a normal thing?

    1. Hi Oogiem. My belief with animals is that most behaviour is individually specific. By that, I mean, how an animal is handled & treated dictates its behaviour. That being said, almost all my sheep experience has been with Katahdins so I am not an expert on various breeds. ‘The Wolf’ method has worked with the sheep I have managed although it takes longer with barnyard sheep. Barnyard sheep are ones that have been treated like pets. The same issue arises with horses that have also been treated like pets. Often I find that what we think of as fact, is actually only the way things are now. In terms of sheep: 1) I was told that sheep can’t paw through snow. Not true. We have had sheep paw through 18″ of snow;
      2) Sheep only like short grass. Not true. If given the chance they top graze just like cattle. It may be that sheep like short grass because that is all they have to graze. Also, maybe that is why parasites are such a problem.
      3) Katahdins don’t gain well. Not true. Katahdin lambs consistently get to 110+lbs in 5months in multiple environments.

      1. Ours are Black Welsh Mountain. They are not pets, but I can walk up to many of them on pasture. We pasture lamb. Our sheep have been part of reproduction research for over 13 years developing non-surgical AI so handled a lot but they do not flock. They are very calm for Welsh Mountain Sheep. The video below is from 2011.


        Trying to get them to bunch up is difficult, they expand to fill the available pasture and ewes do not keep their lambs at their sides all the time. They behave more like deer or cattle. They will park the lambs and go forage then come back to them. They will also typically form family groups and all the related ewes will put their lambs in a creche with the least dominant ewe acting as a babysitter. Then the res of the ewes go foraging. When a lamb is hungry and baas or a ewe has a full udder they call to each other. You’ll see lambs and ewes racing across the pasture to find each other and nurse and then go their separate ways. Sometimes they can’t find each other and I’ve observed the babysitter ewe going out to find the dam of the screaming lamb and bring her back to the creche to feed it. Some very closely related sheep, typically twin sisters or even different age sisters will share in the care of their lambs and will, in a pinch, feed their relatives’ lambs, at least a sip or two, until the mom can be found or comes back. Ewes without close family relatives in the flock make up a “single mothers” creche and recruit one of their number, usually a mid dominant but not the lowest on the scale, ewe to watch their lambs. Non blood relatives have never been observed feeding strange lambs.

        We move them every 1-5 days and I use a call to get them to come. they also know a few basic commands, Open Gate, causes the lead ewes to look for where I am pointing my crook and head for it. That allows us to “open gate” anywhere in a fenceline and they will go to it. Some of them know their names, they don’t necessarily come up to us but when I call out to them they will turn and look at me to see where I am pointing. I can direct them that way. However, I never try to push them. Push or try to get them to bunch up tightly and it’s like hitting billiard balls, they will run and scatter and get very upset. For us at least it’s far better to train them to come to us and I never really try to drive them.

        1. Very interesting Oogiem. I have never heard of that breed. Could you post a link explaining non-surgical AI?
          In regards to flocking, it is my assertion that animals should be trained to drive, turn, stop, and flock before they are trained to follow or be called. I know not everyone is of the same mind set. In my experience, though, when a group is trained to maneuver, I am able to move them wherever I want, when I want. My anxiety level becomes very high if I have to rely only on the animal’s decision to come or follow. It is similar to having an untrained dog. I am very uncomfortable leaving the property before my dog is trained. However, when the dog has a solid recall and hard down I am able to confidently take my dog anywhere. Finally, if you do decide to train your sheep to drive, start when the ewes are dry because driving young stock is a very tricky procedure.

          1. We worked with NAGP on this procedure and hosted a class in the technique this past December. Students got to do the procedure on our ewes. https://www.ars.usda.gov/plains-area/fort-collins-co/center-for-agricultural-resources-research/plant-and-animal-genetic-resources-preservation/docs/ram-semen-processing-cryopreservation-and-non-surgical-insemination-protocol/

            Part of the difference is that we don’t have or use any herding dogs. So for us and the sheep driving is unusual. We are also in a small area with our entire flock behind 8 ft high elk fences all the time. It’s faster for us to set up a few electric nets and use them as lanes if necessary but often we don’t bother, the sheep will follow me.

  3. You are almost there in your technique. First let me state that since we eat livestock they should never feel like they are on the menu that day. Your wolfman approach should be rethought. Second all communication with livestock should be nonverbal. We all have “bunch quitters”. The thing is you should have a read on them before they take off. Just let them go, and then quietly walk parallel to them. They will stop and go back. Repeat this a few times, some others may take off with them but that’s OK just repeat walking parallel with them until they stop and go back. Very soon the entire bunch will stay together and take pressure more evenly. No need for a few weeks, a fit horse (not even a fit human) and certainly not a predator prey relationship.

    Good luck

    1. I appreciate your observations of nature and your application of those observations to the way you manage your livestock. It seems like you’ve had some interesting experiences, no doubt. Overall, it seems like you are managing your livestock handling quite well. However, I have to agree with Doug, that you can have similar results without a different method.

      I never want my stock to think of me as a predator. My concern is that if any of them get it in their mind that I am a predator, they may decide that I am potential threat to them or their calf, and charge–particulary during the first few days after calving when cows seem quite sensitive.

      Also, livestock, like people respond to positive emotions/experiences by producing the feel good hormone, dopamine. When they feel good, they are less likely to get sick, and more likely to stay happy, healthy, and gain/producing at optimum levels.

      Instead, Doug’s suggestion would work. Another slight variation that I use is from Steve Cote, author of Stockmanship: A Powerful Tool for Rangeland Management, suggests walking directly behind a bunch quitter–this is the only time he suggests doing so, because cattle do not like being folllowed/pressured by something they cannot see, so they will turn around to see what’s pressuring them. Once they turn they will realize that they are no longer with the herd, and want to go back to them. At that point, let them do so, by stepping clearly out of their way. Then give them a little time, about 30 seconds or so, to let it sink in that the herd is the safe place to be before you commence herding the group. I’ve had good luck with that method in developing a herd mentality.

      One comment regarding the term “low stress” it’s actually ok to put a fair amount of stress or pressure on livestock, as long as it is removed from them properly. They can handle significant pressure for a short time, without negative consequences, if they know that pressure has a release.

      I look forward to your future articles and insights.

      1. Hey Paul. Thanks for your input. I understand & have used the technique’s you have suggested. I know what you suggest works. It has been my experience, though, that ‘The Wolf’ method is more effective & powerful. By powerful I mean it creates a stronger herding bond. That being said, I may change my approach 10 years from now because I am always looking to improve.
        Your concern about having a cow become aggressive is actually the opposite. For some reason, cows that are known for aggression settle down and no longer charge in the pasture nor when being handled in corrals. Of course, this again is just my experience.lol It appears Kathy will be publishing a few articles about handling multi-species and in the second article, I deal with handling new-borns. It is a technique I call the ‘Wave’ which is quite similar to a method Whitt employs. With the ‘Wave’, I incorporated a verbal command five years ago to let the group know if we are moving or if I am just checking.

    2. Interesting tone in your response Doug; almost patriarchal.
      When I presented this article to Kathy I knew it would be controversial. Aggression is not something taught when I was first introduced to Bud Williams Low -Stress Handling in 2000. Since then, the groups of animals handled has grown from 40 cow/calf pair & 30 ewes to 400+ pair, 300+ ewes, and 800+ yearlings. As I transitioned from small groups of animals to larger groups, my handling evolved as well. It was no longer feasible to walk and gently coax animals to stay with the group; there were simply too manly bunch quitters on too many acres. Once I began using a more aggressive approach, I noticed positive results. Since then I have become more convinced in the efficacy of my approach. You really find out if you have a herd when the fences are gone!
      On your other point, it is not my experience that all animal handling should be non-verbal. The groups I deal with get trained to come to a whistle, bell, or voice once they know how to herd. Further, when the group is a ‘true’ herd, a simple ‘Hey Boss!’ is often all it takes to get a cow walking back with the herd. It may smell like BS, but I have seen it happen time and time again where I am 100′ away from a cow who decides she wants to go in a different direction from the herd. When I call out ‘Hey Boss!’ she immediately changes her direction back to the herd. It feels like I am scolding the cow for bad behaviour & she knows she has been bad.
      Thanks for your input and like wise, Good Luck!

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