Thanks to Dawn Hnatow for co-authoring this article!
Imagine how expedient it would be if we could drive our cattle to a particular place in a pasture—say an area that they normally don’t graze—and have them stay there without the use of additional fence, at least until they ran out of feed or needed to go to water. In the latter instance, what if they would go to water and return to the place where we put them? Imagine what that would do for productivity and range health, and all with no additional inputs (e.g., fence or water points).
During our conventional livestock handling days this was a foreign concept; we thought it impossible. In fact, our experience “proved” that it was impossible. How many of us have spent many difficult hours pushing reluctant cattle up into, say, a fescue-covered mountain basin that they never grazed, only to have them beat us back to the bottom?
But according to Bud Williams, “Cattle will graze where you want them to if you do it properly.” And he demonstrated this repeatedly, and others have learned how to do it as well. For instance, Steve Cote reports successful applications of placing cattle saved permittees from having their grazing allotments curtailed or revoked They learned how to place their cattle so they would stay in the uplands and not hang in the bottoms and grub out the riparian areas. (Download Cote’s book Stockmanship: A Powerful Tool for Grazing Lands Management, the definitive source on the subject.)
Animals stay where they’re comfortable, not where there’s the best feed.
– Bud Williams
“What makes this work,” Williams explains, “is that we must start and drive the animals in such a way that they want to go, and when they get to the area where we want them they are so comfortable that they are willing to stay there.” If they’re not comfortable in the new spot they’ll want to go back to the last one where they were comfortable.
Unfortunately, when we drive cattle conventionally—which often relies on fear and force—we create unhappy cattle who are uncomfortable in their new home so they want to go back. But when we drive our animals properly—and how to do that has been the primary focus of this series—we make our idea their idea so they willingly do we want. It’s all about them wanting to go instead of us making them go. If we have to make them go, they aren’t going to stay.
In our experience we can tell if the herd is going to stay before we ever get to our destination. If they are content, willing, trailing out with their minds going forward (and not resisting and wanting to go back) they are very likely to stay where we put them.
1. The cattle have to work as a herd and look to you for leadership which requires taking the time to work with them.
2. Foster the herd instinct which is more a matter of not doing anything that makes the herd an undesirable place to be.
3. Properly approaching, starting and driving that creates “good movement.”
4. Settle them properly.
(I covered 3 and 4 in the last two articles in this series.)
1. Don’t use force. It has to be their idea or they won’t stay. They have to want to be there; we can’t make them be there.
2. Don’t stop them; rather, let the movement dissipate. As Bud explains, “If we take animals to a place and stop ‘em and hold ‘em, when we leave that movement still there and they’re goin’.”
3. Don’t leave before all the movement is dissipated. If even one animal is wanting to leave, it can lead the whole herd off.
Guy Glosson, a ranch manager in Texas, hired Bud for four months in 1989. During this time they worked a lot on placing cattle in areas they normally didn’t graze. Based on that experience, Guy has several lessons and recommendations for placing cattle.
1. You can indeed place cattle and put them in areas where they won’t normally graze and to increase animal impact.
2. The idea that we can place cattle in a tight group like a band of sheep is mistaken; they will form loose bunches.
3. Don’t expect them to stay in the exact area; they will stay loosely in the general area.
4. Cows can be taught to be placed, and the calves learn from their mothers, so it gets easier over time with training.
1. When first starting out with a new herd, loosely pen them at night for about a week to help work out their social stuff and start acting like a herd. If you just turn them out and expect them to be a herd they won’t because of all the different social groups, some of which don’t want anything to do with others.
2. Don’t do it first thing in the morning because you interrupt their normal routine of getting up, stretching, nursing, then going to water.
3. Wait until they’re ready to come off of water and go out to graze.
Above all, Glosson said that it is vitally important to “Have patience. When cattle are ready to go they’ll go. Just prepare ‘em to go. Don’t force it.”
What It Should Look Like
When we’ve successfully placed a herd of cattle they should be content where they are. Good indicators of this are animals grazing in different directions, some laying down chewing their cuds, and if one cow goes over there to graze and nothing follows it.
This placed herd of co-mingled yearlings is what we’re looking for. Notice the random orientation, many laying down, and nothing trying to leave the bunch.
Placing cattle is the end result of doing everything up to that point properly (e.g., approaching, starting and driving). As such, it is a great measure of our stockmanship skill level.
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