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How Management Builds a Culture in Your Herd

written by

Joshua Harris

posted on

March 14, 2023

A 15 mph wind is usually something in the winter time that makes for a colder than normal day.  After a few weeks of temps in the 60s and 70s and then a drop to the 40s with a 15 mph it all of a sudden feels like Antarctica.  Well... not really, but it's still cold to a southerner.  On this "cold" March day 6 of our steers meandered their way through a patched woven separator fence and strolled through another separator that had been taken out by a deer to the other side of 60 acres from where they started.  Not only was it a long ways away but also mostly open pasture at this point.

We started by assessing what options we had and settled on what we thought the best plan.  Utilize a couple of fences and pull a temporary string and hopefully push them back to where they came.  After setting it all up the fun began.  We approached, myself on foot and Dad in the truck, slowly as usual and taking our time hoping to just give some encouragement for them to follow the polywire stretched the length of the pasture.  Of course, they turn and start doing circles around us.  We try again.  Same result.  The lush, new green grass was inviting and you can imagine why they wouldn't want to go backwards.  After a moment of thought a wild and crazy idea popped into my head... "maybe they'll just follow me?"  I start slowly walking on another route to the same destination, calling as if we're headed to a new pasture and what do you know... here they come.  Slowly, we walk all the way across the pasture as they selectively graze and we get all the way to the woods and creek.  We made it to where we needed to go, with no pressure at all.

This whole interaction provided a different perspective of stockmanship.  We always strive to have a low-stress environment.  We don't run the cows, we don't holler at them, and we really just open up a new paddock everyday.  Their experiences with us are centered around getting something they like in return most of the time.  It's rarely a forced move and when it is, it is in a setting where there is only one option.  

The entire time it seemed they had the impression of three things; they were supposed to get something good, they were moving forward to a new paddock, and there was good stuff up there that one of the others might get before they got to it themselves.  As I watched them selectively graze, the one in the back of the pack would come to the front... and repeat.  Competing for the best stuff in the pasture, looking for the next best thing to come ahead.  We notice this with our main herd too.  When they enter a new paddock they go to the front and start grazing.  Once they get passed then it's a push to the front again.  Competing to find the good stuff.  

It's a culture within the herd that is cultivated by our practices.  Our management of our cattle produce animals that look to compete and find lush, healthy forage.  They're used to getting good forage so they get excited every time that they get to move which provides them with a positive experience every time we are around.  The constant buffet of premium pasture helps their body condition, milk production, and overall health.  They perform better and stay healthier.  We don't push, they follow.  They aren't scared of us, high-headed, or look to run.  They still keep their distance but they are relaxed when we are around and not tense.  Again, they perform better when they're relaxed.  

When they are relaxed in our presence and have positive memories and expectations of our interactions then you have 6 steers follow you across an entire pasture with not one thing in your hand to bait them.  You have cattle that you can bring your kids around.  You have cattle that aren't on the run as soon as you show up.  They follow with just the hopes of a new pasture and good times.


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