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Tips for Low-Stress Cattle Gathering and Driving

If you want to develop your stockmanship skills, you’re in the right place. Thanks to the talents and contributions of Whit Hibbard, there’s a whole library at your fingertips. Today, we’re adding more with some summaries of his instructions, along with videos illustrating his points. (Some of these were taken on horseback, so you’ll notice a bit of bumpiness. Consider it a virtual horseback ride.)

Beginning the Drive

Get things off to a good start by approaching animals in a non-threatening way (i.e., at an oblique angle, not directly towards them). Start slowly, giving them time to decide to move off of your pressure, so it becomes their idea to head in the direction you want. Conventional handlers tend to make them move off, often by inducing fear (e.g., by yelling, siccing the dogs on them).

This video is a good example of how to start off, riding in a straight-line zigzag pattern behind the herd which applies effective pressure into their sides which they tend to walk away from  straight, or at a 90 degree angle to the baseline of the zigzag. This initiates what we call “good movement” in a herd.

Getting Good Movement

When you’re gathering cattle to drive them, getting “good movement” started is very important. Good movement is when animals are contentedly trailing out at their own pace and their minds are going forward. In other words, they want to go where we want them to go.

This video shows me gathering a herd of 604 yearlings and driving them to a corner gate in the electric fence. You can see how I create good movement in the central herd which encourages other cattle to join in. Note also that when I start these yearlings I’m asking them to get going—which is fine, even good, for yearlings, but contraindicated for pairs—so my zigzag is fairly vigorous. But watch the animals’ response carefully. They get up and move out, but it’s happy movement, it’s good movement, and notice how that attracts other cattle to it. How do we know? For one thing they are playful, and for another, the outlying cattle want to come join it.

The zigzag the rider is using is shown below. Depending on how much movement you want you might use a flat zigzag, as shown on the left, or a sharper zigzag, as shown on the right. The basic rule is: The more movement you want the sharper the zigzag. Also, the animals’ sensitivity is a factor; that is, the more sensitive, flighty or responsive the animals the flatter the zigzag. Conversely, the duller the animals the sharper the zigzag. The zigzag is the foundation of moving your cattle from the rear. If you haven’t already learned it, here’s another of my articles to help you get started.

Power of the Draw

Good gathering relies heavily on the “power of the draw” which is created by good movement. If we approach and start animals properly, that creates good movement which then draws other animals to it. This next video illustrates a rider moving the middle third of a herd, drawing other animals in as they go. This rider is using the sharper-angled zigzag

Finally, as you go along, keep these words from Bud Williams in mind. They’ll help you slow down and be successful.

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Whit Hibbard
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.

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