This week, John Marble is sharing his study comparing the efficiency of leading livestock vs. calling and leading them. Calling and leading came out on top every time. In his “Discussion” section, he mentions that folks working on large landscapes may question if it works in their case. I’m here to say, “Yes, it does!”
I’ve been calling livestock to come since I got my first goat twenty-five years ago. It wasn’t because I thought about it and decided it was the thing to do. I just started calling, they came, and that reinforced the behavior. I loved the in unison “maaaaaaaa” the herd made when I called, “Hey goats!” And it tickled me to no end to hear their drumming hooves when they all ran to me as I clapped and called. As the research herd grew from 10 to 50 to 130, I just kept calling and leading. When we needed to go longer distances, my research partner and I climbed in the truck, one sitting on the tailgate calling as we led them down the road to the next paddock.
It Even Worked in Emergencies!
When a wildfire threatened to burn over the study area, the goats were ready to go. One herd followed project staff to a fenced in ammunition storage site. Then, while one technician set up a fence in a large graveled safe zone, the other led our second herd there where they safely waited out the fire.
500-or-more-Acre Pastures? No Problem!
When I moved on to teaching cows to eat weeds, calling was a natural part of the training. Animal behaviorist Ivan Pavlov used a bell to signal feeding time to a dog. I used my truck horn instead of a bell to reach across the large landscapes where I worked. Cows would come running across 500-acre pastures to get their treats when they heard the horn, saving me lots of walking time. I even learned that when I needed to move the cattle from one side of a 500-acre pasture to the other, I could park the truck near where I needed them to be, press the emergency button on my key fob, and then stand nearby shaking a feed tub. They showed up every time.
There was a time when I did try herding. I studied books, videos, and attended a Bud Williams training in Texas too. And I had some good success with it. But eventually, I always went back to calling. It was my solution when a couple of bulls added to my weed-eating herd made it difficult to move the cows by herding. I trained them all to come to the horn at the same time I was training them to eat weeds. Then, when I wanted to move them into their weed-eating trail paddock, they followed me and my pickup through the gate with no problem at all.
Seeing is Believing
To give you an idea of the distances we’re talking, and how well calling worked, here’s a 1:57 compilation video from my work training cows to eat weeds. The first bit is from a training I did at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The cowboys with their dogs weren’t available that day so we had to call them with the horn. The video also gives you a good idea of how quickly the cows come. Sometimes they walk, many times they run.
Of course, you don’t have to use a horn, here’s a 2:41 video of a fellow in Washington state calling his cows in with just his voice. Apparently cows have pretty good hearing!
For many of you, this is not big news. For others, the idea that cows will come over long distances when called may be eye opening. I hope that it gives you some ideas about how you might make working with your livestock easier and your operation more profitable. And stay tuned for next week when John Marble and I will both share our training techniques for calling and leading livestock.
Thanks for reading!