Life Lessons Learned While Working Cattle

  1. Going slow is the best way to go fast.

When we rush to get a job done it always takes twice as long. When we run the cattle or hurry the horses they sull up and work slower or blow up and it all goes to heck. If we pause a moment and let everything settle and look around they have time to make the decision to go forward calmly and comfortably.

2. Screaming and yelling is no way to get the job done

I once had a neighbor help work calves. The usually quiet agreeable herd didn’t know what to do with all his yelling and suddenly refused to go through gates or would all take off. Once I convinced him to stop screaming and waving his arms, to instead walk through them quietly and ask politely, they went back to their usual selves and everything worked much easier. People and animals respond much better to being asked nicely than they do to screaming.

3. Mind your own business

Yes, it’s best not to pry into what your neighbor is up to, but in this case, your business is the cows in front of you. Don’t cut in front of someone else to get the cattle moving there. Every rider, when moving cattle, has a pie shaped wedge out in front of them. Figuratively of course 😉 The rider at the narrow end, with it widening at the herd.  That is their business. The wedges over lap at the corners. But you never, ever, unless it is an absolute emergency and the whole herd is about to disappear down a deep draw, leave your place to get into another riders space. To do so is insulting to everyone helping and makes you look bad.

4. Respect your elders

It takes time and experience to earn the top jobs at workings. The right to rope, brand, or castrate are earned. The young people get to wrestle calves, and do what ever else they are asked to do. Just jumping on a horse and deciding you are going to rope is not ok.

When working in a chute, running the chute and giving shots are the top of the hierarchy. Everyone else pushes cattle into the chute or brings them in from the corrals. All the jobs are important. One can’t be done without the other. There is nothing wrong with stepping back and acknowledging the age and experience of those you are working with. Being asked to do more is a far better than to be asked to step back.

5.Sometimes you gotta get a little poop on your boots to get the job done.

Nothing worth doing was ever done without putting in the hard work to get it done. That means wading into the deep mud, getting into the poop, rolling up your sleeves and getting done what needs done.

6. Do unto others what you would have them do unto you

Sometimes cows get into a different pasture. Fences get down. Things happen. We can make the decision to make it right or quietly let it go. It can be a little too easy to let things slip when they are to our benefit. Do we pick up the phone a little faster when the neighbors cows are out on our pasture? Do we wait a little longer to get cattle in when they’re on the neighbors pasture? Doing the right thing even when it isn’t to our benefit can be hard, but it’s still the right thing to do.

7. Do the job until the job is done

It doesn’t matter if it’s hot and you think you might die of thirst before you can refill your canteen, or so cold you can’t feel your extremities, or so late you are about to fall asleep in the saddle. When there’s a job that has to be done, it has to be done. The cattle’s health and comfort comes before the person’s. That’s how this life works. Now on the other hand, sometimes that job doesn’t HAVE to be done now. There’s no reason not to let is wait until after presents have been opened on Christmas, or after the big parade in town. The trick is knowing the difference.

8. Branding, cow working is not the place to train your horse

Yes, young horses need to get out and experience life in order to learn how to be a good horse. But there’s a fine line between getting that experience in and messing up the workings. When there’s a job to be done and people around that could get hurt is not the time to build that experience. Cattle working, especially when they’re not your own, is not the place to get a colt with 30 days on used to crowds and noise.

9. Good handling makes good cows

We’ve all seen those herds that scatter when they spot a horse, or 4wheeler. We tried to work the cattle that ball up or refuse to go through a gate to sort. Some cattle are just hard to work.

But maybe it isn’t the cows. Cattle are trained to handle, just like horses. The time we spend with them, the way we work them, all influences how they handle. We can change our working style, stop yelling, see lesson #2, slow down, lesson #1, and take a close look at the working facilities. Is the set up arranged in a way that allows for easy movement? Is it mostly free of shadows, dark or light places that will make it hard for the cattle to see where they will be going?

While we’re working on ‘training’ our cattle to handle well we can do some actual training. Run cattle through the chute one time without working them. Let them see what and where. The next time they will have learned that going through the chute lets them ‘escape’ and they’ll run right through. Knowing the routine is important for cattle, they are creatures of habit. Make sure they know what is coming and they will work with you instead of against.

10. Never ask a man the size of his spread

Seriously. It’s just rude.


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