Cattle Sense and People Skills

Host: Kalyeeda Station
Written by Barb Camp – Kalyeeda Station.

I had an interesting discussion with a friend once about what working cattle taught young men. She had only seen stock whips and poly pipe and not understood the context in which these tools are used. In her mind, it taught boys to bully and shout and use violence and force to get what they want. I, on the other hand think it teaches the absolute opposite. To work stock successfully teaches respect, patience, team-work, and judgement. Let me explain to you why.

 4.1 copyA gang of bullies or a co-ordinated team?

Imagine you have a group of cattle to draft. The aim of the game is to move them though the yards as quickly and efficiently as possible. Step one is to move the mob from the first yard though the gate into the next. It’s not rocket science. Cows are like people in that they will work best when they are calm and alert, not stressed or scared.

Life would be easy if we could make a bovine – human dictionary. If you could get a megaphone and say to all of the animals in the yard “Excuse me! If you could just proceed in an orderly fashion through that gate there and wait in whatever pen you’ve been assigned we will be with you soon. We just want to do a quick tally and give you your vaccinations and then you can all go back out again!” or, in the case of the sale cattle “Congratulations! You have just won an all expenses paid cruise to China for you and 500 of your closest friends! All you can eat buffet and fully serviced apartments included!” Unfortunately, despite my best efforts I’ve never managed to get that one off the ground so we have to work our stock the old fashioned way and that involves communicating with animals in a way that actually makes sense to them. As with most people, you do this by working out how to make what you want into what they want.

 4.2 copyThe human/cow dictionary is still in the developmental stage.

What does a cow standing in yards want? They want to get away from us to somewhere they feel safe. This generally involves being at the opposite end of the yard to the people and being in a big mob with their friends. A smart stock team uses those instincts to their advantage.

If the yard crew enters enter the yard quietly and confidently though the gate at the front they want to push the cows through, then the cows see them and move away into a mob at the back of the yard.

That’s okay – the cattle are not panicked yet, just alert and processing what is going on around them. The crew can then spread out around the mob like a net and push the animals closer together in the back corner of the yard and making them a little uncomfortable in that space.

When the mob starts to get nervous, that’s when the smart ringer closest to the front of the mob between them and the open gate moves to the side and leaves a big open space for the cows to see.

 4.3 copyThe cows can see the gate, now we just need to get them to want to go though it.

As he does that, the crew at the back-side of the mob step closer in to the cows. Like squeezing a tube of toothpaste, the mob has to move somewhere to get away from the people so they will take the path of least resistance and head towards the big open gap ahead.

 4.4 copyWorking together with each other and with the animals instincts we can move the mob calmly and efficiently.

If we were to go the other extreme and run in screaming and bullying then we would be removing the brain from the equation. Have you ever heard the saying ‘to work out the IQ of a crowd take the IQ of the stupidest member and divide it by the number in the crowd?’ this rings true for cattle too. Cows are bigger and faster than people and have the potential to be very dangerous. It’s up to us to be smarter. The end aim of the game is to get them through the yards ASAP and quite simply hostage negotiation and siege tactics take a long time to work, not to mention can be dangerous.

That is the basics of low-stress stock handling. It is quiet and efficient and works on common sense. The general idea is that a group of animals will be more likely to do what you want when you lay out their options in a way that makes the right choice the most attractive option. I think that is a brilliant lesson for young men to learn.


This would be a beautiful, well-rounded place to leave this blog. What a lovely moral to the story. Unfortunately I really can’t stop there in all good consciousness. I absolutely stand by all of what I just wrote but I’m not going to lie and leave it all sugar coated and lovely.

You cannot escape the fact that like some people some cows are just real – to put it politely – Arseholes.

4.5 copyLike being down the pub on Friday night, sometimes the boys just want to fight . . .

I’m talking the dregs of society. They are rude. They are bogans . . . Disrespectful, cheeky, unpleasant . . . however you want to label them, they are the sort of people you cross the street to avoid. When you have a mob of 1,000 head there’s bound to be a few idiots in the mix. These are the ones that we tell exciting stories about. If they were humans they would be the hoons that you see on prime time TV cop shows heading down the wrong side of the highway in high-speed chases or getting drunk and disorderly outside of nightclubs in Northbridge. I’m pretty sure we have a few old cows that given half a chance would be heading off to fight for ISIS.

 4.6 copyHello, beautiful.

These 1% are the ones that take the happy-cow low stress philosophy and trample all over it. They are the bad apples that can spoil the whole barrel and they are the ones that give the bad impressions to people like my naïve friend. I suppose that’s another life lesson we all learn though – usually you get the best results out of life with respect, patience, teamwork, and judgement. Sometimes you need a stockwhip and a bullcatcher.