Working with animals

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

Cows and horses are large, unpredictable animals and they can be pretty bloody dangerous. It’s a fact that more people are killed by cows than sharks every year. This is where when you’re working with animals, you need to work with animals. This idea central to any job that involves dealing with living creatures. And what we always try to do when working cattle through the yards.

5.1Peter with some of our baby bulls in the yards. These animals have been well handled and are happy in the yards.

An animal that is happy and healthy will not try to fight you, and are therefore less likely to hurt you and more likely to do what you ask of them easily and quickly. As us humans are supposed to be the intelligent ones, it is up to us to put ourselves in the minds of the animal and understand what we are asking of them and how we are asking them.

We do that by working with their instincts – they are herd animals who will respond to predators with fight or flight instincts. That means generally speaking a cow will want to stick with his mates and be away from you. The quickest, most efficient way to move a mob of cattle through the yards is taking things slowly, logically, and steadily for them.

Let’s think it though – If the cow is staring at you, at the back of a pen when your mate is opening a gate at the front then she did not see that the gate was opened – she assumes it is still closed. So when you start running towards her, she responds in panic by either running away blindly in circles and still not seeing the gate because she is too stressed, or deciding she has been backed into a corner and needs to fight her way past you.

On the other hand, if you are to enter the yard with your mate via the gate the cow will see this escape hatch is open. If you then move to the side and circle around her to the far side of the gate just close enough to her that she will want to get away from you but not so close that she feels the need to panic and run blindly (trust me – you learn pretty quickly how to read when you’ve crossed that line). She will move away and towards the escape hatch. This works even better with a bigger mob of cattle. It just takes one bright spark to go through the gate for the others to watch their mate, see it’s safe and follow suit.

5.2Working together as a team we use the mob’s flight instinct to push them away from us and around the yards without frightening them and causing a rush and panic.

Animals almost always take the easiest option. It’s up to us in working them to make what we want them to do the most appealing option. This concept of low-stress stock handling is important from every angle. Happy cows mean less injuries to other animals and to people. It means better use of time because you’re not literally chasing a stressed out animal is circles. It makes sense financially because a cow that has come through the yards steadily and happily is not going to lose a heap of weight or potentially abort a calf through worry.

This attitude pays off through the generations. If a calf’s first contact with a person is being walked quietly at his mother’s heels into a set of yards, then being moved quietly from pen to pen with no yelling or mad galloping, and  learns as a youngster to stand in with the mob when the horsemen are positioned around them holding them up, he will become easy to deal with when he is mustered in next year as a weaner – he has done it before and it wasn’t so bad. You know you’ve done a good job as a ringer when at the end of a day’s drafting you see a young cow with her first calf lying down by the rails of the drafting pen chewing her cud contentedly.

5.3We walk our cattle out quietly with horses from a young age and teach them to follow a lead horse and to move away from pressure. This makes them much calmer and easier to deal with as they grow up.

The end result of station life is to produce beef cattle to feed people, but there’s so much more to it than that. We do this job because we love and respect animals and what they give us – both food and this wonderful life in the bush. The only way to get the most out of our animals is to look after them and their habitat to the best of our ability. For me, station life is all about happy cows.

5.4Happy cows are curious cows.