In the last four articles we talked about how to properly drive cattle. (Here are the last four articles in case you missed them: Approaching the Herd, Starting Herd Movement, Driving Your Herd, Turning Your Herd.) Driving pairs deserves special attention because this could well be the #1 livestock handling problem on ranches; that is.
The primary problem when driving pairs is cows and calves getting separated, which often leads to runbacks, or at least to very unhappy, stressed out cattle and people. But it needn’t be that way. Cows and calves trail all over by themselves and don’t have runbacks, right? Have you ever seen a run back when humans weren’t around messing with them? So, that tells us that trailing out is natural to cattle–they already know how to do it–so think how nice it would be if we could stimulate that natural behavior.
So, when driving pairs our goal is (a) for cows to think of their calves first, (b) to stay mothered-up, and (c) to trail out properly so they don’t become unmothered.
The question, then, is: How do we do this?
1. Foster the herd instinct.
Imagine how much easier it would be to trail our cattle out if they preferred to be in a herd. As a prey animal, bovine want to be in herd unless we do something to make the herd an unpleasant place for them to be. So, the main idea in fostering or rekindling the herd instinct is that it’s not something that we actively teach them; rather, it’s a by-product of working our animals properly so the herd is a nice place to be. Unfortunately, in conventional handling, the herd becomes a place cattle don’t want to be because of mishandling.
2. Teach them to walk calmly through gates past a handler.
This is something that we should do with our cows before they calve. We should not let them get in the habit of rushing through gates uncontrolled. Why? It will really hurt us when it comes to trailing out pairs because too many will get unmothered. A basic rule should be that when someone goes up to open a gate they should stay there and regulate the flow of cattle through it. However, an exception might be very young calves if they are overly sensitive to the presence of the gate person and don’t want to go past him or her.