Curt Pate shares low-stress livestock handling tips
Pate has made it his life’s work to improve upon his low-stress livestock handling practices. He shares this knowledge with other livestock producers to create sustainability in the cattle industry.
From traveling to other countries, Pate believes U.S. producers need to be more compassionate and kind to their animals to stay competitive in the future.
“Our customers are concerned about those things,” he said. “We need to do a better job talking about how we care for our animals and the environment. We need to act in the way people want us to act. That is how we create a customer… We should treat the animal in a way that will make us money, but still allow the animal to live with dignity.”
Customer perceptions of livestock producers are important, Pate said. Something as simple as petting a horse can be perceived by the public as “that stockman must really love his horse.”
“The horse might not care that I pet him, but the public views it differently,” he said.
Groundwork is an important aspect of Pate’s low-stress handling methods. He prefers working cattle to one side and moving back and forth, similar to how a Border Collie works cattle. Working behind cattle, but just off to the side, takes the pressure off the animal.
“If you ride behind the cattle and just continue to push them, pretty soon they will push back at you,” he said.
By working cattle from the side or back and moving by going straight out wide, cattle will turn away from the pressure, he said. “It is important to train the cattle to come by you on the left or right side,” he continued.
Pate rides a horse’s front feet. “It is easier to control the front feet than the whole horse,” he said. “When I am working cattle, I don’t work the whole animal, I work the nose. If you get the nose pointed where you want it to go, and by putting the right amount of pressure at the right angle, you can put that animal there.”
A horse has a long neck, and it can bend and flex and still go in a straight line, Pate said. “Cattle are different. They have a short neck, and if they bend their neck, they have less flexibility so they will change direction sooner,” he said. “That is why my position, and where I get their nose pointed, is so important. It is like driving a team of horses with blinders on.”
Once cattle are all pointed in the same direction, Pate said it doesn’t take any pressure to get them to their destination. “When they are looking and standing in all different directions, it will take more pressure to get them to do what you want,” he said.
Facilities vs. technique
Pate cautioned producers against putting too much focus on the facilities they are using – whether it is a Bud Box, a tub, or some other type of facility. “Getting tied up in the facilities doesn’t make you a better stockman,” he said. “Once the cattle are trained in handling, I have absolute confidence they will go where I want them to go. How you teach cattle to handle pressure will affect how they respond to you.”
What it really important in handling cattle, is teaching them how to work their way out of corners. This involves stepping out to take the pressure off so they can move from the corners. “The more active and aware you are of what you are doing, the easier it is to work cattle,” Pate said. “Just keep the pressure on them when you need to, but don’t be afraid to release it. Always be in the right position to send them where you want them to go. It is not all about pressure and release, it is about pressure, and a partial release of pressure.”
It is also important to make sure the working area doesn’t get too crowded because cattle need room to be able to lineup and look the same direction. “If the Bud Box only holds three calves, and you have four, don’t leave one behind. Work them in groups of two and two,” he stated.
He also recommended running cattle through the chute at least once a year without even touching them, so they don’t associate fear with the working facilities. “Be careful to control their speed through the chute and don’t let them bump or bruise their shoulders as they pass through,” he cautioned.
The trick to working cattle is to prevent them from jumping into survival mode. “Break things down into component parts, and teach the animal so they aren’t afraid,” he explained. “A good example of this is how we train colts. We can bring them into an arena and accomplish more in a couple hours than what we used to in a couple months. Once you break things down for them, it stimulates their thinking mode.
“The pleasure of working with livestock is people don’t always see the little things you do, and then they are in awe when they see all the things you have accomplished. There is a lot of honor in working cattle the right way, and to do it right you have to care about the job you’re doing,” he said.
Pate left stockmen with a final thought. “When you finish a job working with the cattle, stop and think about it and what could have been done better. It is such a fast pace world today, that when we finish one job, we tend to go on to the next without reflecting on what we just accomplished.”